68°F
weather icon Clear

Nevada inmates with chronic hepatitis C sue over treatment

Nevada is the latest state being sued for allegedly failing to provide proper treatment to inmates with chronic hepatitis C.

A federal class-action lawsuit filed Oct. 27 alleges that Nevada Department of Corrections inmates are not being provided anti-viral drugs used to treat and cure chronic hepatitis C, also called HCV. The lawsuit names two inmates as plaintiffs but is designed to represent all Nevada inmates who have or may be diagnosed with chronic hepatitis C, according to attorney Scott Olifant.

“There has never been an attempt to do what this lawsuit seeks to do (in Nevada),” Olifant said Thursday.

According to the complaint, the two inmates have not received direct-acting antiviral medications for chronic hepatitis C. The disease can result in liver damage, liver failure, liver cancer or death if untreated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But more than 90 percent of people with chronic hepatitis C can be cured with medication, according to the CDC’s website.

In inmate Jody Bacon’s case, the suit alleges that “each physician has been deliberately indifferent to his medical needs,” and the physicians have been “allowing his condition to deteriorate.”

Other lawsuits have been filed in states including Missouri, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Connecticut, Maine, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Florida, according to The Associated Press.

About 17 percent to 23 percent of inmates nationally are infected, while only about 1 percent of the general population is infected, according to a 2018 article from the American Association for the Study of Liver Disease, which recommends testing inmates for the disease.

State Department of Corrections spokesman Scott Kelley declined to comment on the allegations in the lawsuit “as this could jeopardize future litigation,” he said in an emailed statement.

Kelley also declined to disclose “treatment specifics” for inmates, “prescribed medications” or the percentage of inmates that have been diagnosed.

“NDOC’s medical staff are professionals who administer the best possible care to our inmates using approved and proven methods,” he said.

‘A matter of funding’

The lawsuit comes after John Witherow spent years speaking with attorneys and Nevada prison officials.

“It’s a matter of funding; they just don’t have the money,” said Witherow, president of Nevada’s Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants, also called NV Cure.

Witherow spent 26 years in Nevada prisons, so when the 70-year-old was released on parole about 10 years ago, he knew he wanted to help fellow prisoners. He was aware of the issues of treating hepatitis C while he was incarcerated, Witherow said in an interview Thursday.

“Many people were infected; there was always a fear of getting infected,” he said. “People in there were getting sick from it, very sick, and unable to get any treatment.”

While hepatitis C may be transmitted sexually, it’s most commonly spread through sharing needles, according to the CDC. Getting tattoos and sharing razors is a common way for it to spread in prison, which Witherow described as a “breeding ground” for the disease.

Through NV Cure, which sends out newsletters to inmates every two months, Witherow reached inmates to bring forth the suit. He said the inmates in the suit were denied after filing grievances and appeals to receive treatment, but there are dozens of cases like theirs.

Witherow hopes the suit results in not only treatment but mandatory, opt-out testing for all inmates, which is already being done for HIV, he said.

“All prisoners are entitled to adequate medical care, and treatment for hepatitis C is adequate medical care,” he said.

Expensive treatments

This isn’t the first time Olifant has tried to address hepatitis C treatment issues. His former client, 51-year-old Johanna Hudnall, was interviewed by the Review-Journal in January 2017 after being unable to access medication for her hepatitis C that she had for about 20 years.

“I’m trying to get something done,” she told the Review-Journal. “I think 20 years with this disease is a reasonable amount of time.”

The various lawsuits seemed to have began with 65-year-old inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal suing Pennsylvania in May 2015 after being denied hepatitis C drugs. Abu-Jamal is serving a life sentence and was convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer in 1981, according to The Associated Press.

In July, a federal appeals court upheld a lower-court decision saying corrections department employees were not immune to being sued over their decisions regarding Abu-Jamal, who previously won a court order requiring the prison to provide the drugs.

Witherow said lawsuits have been ruled in favor of inmates in multiple states, and he’s confident that Nevada will see a similar ruling.

“I would say, except for politicians’ interference, it’s 100 percent a winner,” he said.

The Review-Journal reported in 2017 that nine inmates were being treated for hepatitis C in March 2016. Kelley, the spokesman, said the department was unaware of the current number being treated, as it changes monthly, and said all diagnosed inmates are being treated “if you define treatment to include labs, ultrasounds, monitoring, chronic disease clinics, etc.”

A committee of physicians reviews inmates with chronic hepatitis C to determine treatment, he said.

In 2017, a former department spokeswoman said treatment with “new antiviral medication” cost between $36,000 and $60,000 an inmate. Kelley said when the “Harvoni treatment” was introduced it cost about $84,000 per patient, but that “we don’t know the current price for it.”

According to the CDC, Harvoni is one of 13 FDA-approved treatments for hepatitis C. Since new antiviral drugs became available in 2011, the cost has dropped to about $13,000 a person for the simplest cases, The Associated Press reported in October, citing a Tennessee lawsuit against that state’s corrections department.

Witherow said that despite the cost, the state is required to care for inmates.

“They’re underfunded. They’re trying to incarcerate everybody and cost them as few dollars as possible for the incarceration,” he said. “If you want to incarcerate, you got to pay.”

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Accused murder mastermind Frank LaPena is granted a pardon - VIDEO
A onetime Las Vegas casino bell captain who spent 25 years in prison as the accused mastermind in a notorious 1974 contract murder won his last legal battle for freedom Wednesday when the state Pardons Board granted him a conditional pardon restoring all his civil rights. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Middle: Nonpartisan voters and the 2020 election
How will the growing segment of nonpartisan or independent voters — those who have not registered with either political party, or who have left partisan politics behind — vote in 2020?
Tomi Lahren Speaks at UNLV - VIDEO
Fox News contributor and UNLV alumna Tomi Lahren returned to campus Wednesday night for a speech, titled “Stay Triggered,” that drew an auditorium of supporters as well as a group of protesters outside. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders released from Las Vegas hospital - VIDEO
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., issues a statement after he was released from Desert Springs Hospital Medical Center on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, after suffering a heart attack earlier in the week. (Bernie Sanders via Twitter)
Democratic presidential candidates speak on impeachment - VIDEO
Democratic presidential candidates attending the March for Our Lives/Giffords Gun Safety Forum in Las Vegas comment on possible impeachment proceedings. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Joe Biden Las Vegas Rally Highlights - VIDEO
2020 presidential candidate, Joe Biden, came to Las Vegas to talk guns, climate change and the Ukranian-Trump scandal. Biden was interrupted by a protestor who sat amongst supporters at the rally and continued with his speech. (Angus Kelly & James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Joe Biden comments on Trump and his campaign efforts in Nevada - VIDEO
After an impeachment inquiry was opened on Donald Trump, Joe Biden talks with Review-Journal politics reporter Rory Appleton about Trump and his campaign in Nevada. (Angus Kelly & James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders Unveils Affordable Housing Plan - Video
Bernie Sanders sits down with the Las Vegas Review-Journal to talk about his new affordable housing plan he unveiled at Plumbers & Pipefitters.
Jim Marchant talks gun control and Dreamers - Video
Republican Candidate for District 4 Jim Marchant talks about gun control and immigration policies. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Hurricanes, Gender, and Science in the Press
Imagine if the mainstream media’s current hurricane-sized obsession with scientific accuracy applied to gender.
Cory Booker on college tuition and minimum wage
Cory Booker talks on the RJ Politics podcast about college debt, informing workers about their rights and livable wages.
Nevada Politics Today: Teacher raises - VIDEO
Jason Goudie, the chief financial officer for the Clark County School District, talks about teacher pay and raises. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Crime Videos
Man charged in model's death to be released under house arrest - Video
Christopher Prestipino, who has been charged in the death of Esmeralda Gonzalez, has posted $500,000 bail. District Judge Douglas Herndon confirmed on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019, that Prestipino should be released on house arrest while he awaits trial. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
DUI suspect in fatal crash makes court appearance - VIDEO
A man facing multiple charges in connection with a suspected drunk driving crash Saturday admitted to investigators that he’d been drinking prior to the fatal crash. Aaron Kruse was made a court appearance on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Casandra Garrett appears in court over model's death - Video
Casandra Garrett was in court on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019, in Las Vegas after she was extradited from Wisconsin. She is facing charges in connection with the slaying of Esmeralda Gonzalez, a 24-year-old model whose body was found encased in concrete in October. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas attorney has been disbarred from practicing law in Nevada - VIDEO
Las Vegas attorney Alexis Plunkett has been disbarred from practicing law in Nevada. The 38-year-old pleaded guilty earlier this year to one count of possession of a telecommunication device by a prisoner, and was ordered to serve three-years probation. (Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas police cite disabled Strip artist
Bodycam footage shows Las Vegas police confronting Larime Taylor, a disabled man who “live draws” art on the Las Vegas Strip using his mouth. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Bodycam footage of Henderson Police Officers in Fatal Shooting of Mother - Video
Bodycam footage from an officer-involved shooting where the officers a 7-year-old male juvenile with apparent stab wounds and an agitated adult female.
3 more arrested, accused of abuse at east Las Vegas group home - Video
Three more people were arrested in connection with an unlicensed group home in the east valley that authorities first raided in September, police said Thursday. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Accused murder mastermind Frank LaPena is granted a pardon - VIDEO
A onetime Las Vegas casino bell captain who spent 25 years in prison as the accused mastermind in a notorious 1974 contract murder won his last legal battle for freedom Wednesday when the state Pardons Board granted him a conditional pardon restoring all his civil rights. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Frank LaPena Pardoned after 45 years
Frank LaPena received a conditional pardon from the Nevada Pardons Board Wednesday, restoring his civil rights 45 years after he was accused of a notorious 1974 contract killing in Las Vegas. (Bill Dentzer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Christopher Prestipino pleads not guilty to all charges - VIDEO
Christopher Prestipino of Las Vegas pleaded not guilty Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019, to charges in the slaying of Esmeralda Gonzalez, a 24-year-old model, whose body authorities said was found encased in concrete. (Angus Kelly/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Latest charges against Giovanni Ruiz, accused in the killing of UNLV student Paula Davis - VIDEO
Prosecutors added sexual assault charges Thursday against Giovanni Ruiz who stands accused of killing UNLV student Paula Davis. (Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Inside Las Vegas police K-9 unit - VIDEO
Jason Dukes has spent 15 years in Metro’s K-9 unit, a demanding job that requires officers to serve the needs of different departments and handle their dogs in hostile situations. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
RJ reporter takes bite from Las Vegas police dog - VIDEO
While reporting on the Metropolitan Police Department’s K-9 section, Review-Journal writer Rio Lacanlale agreed to let a 100-pound Dutch shepherd attack her. (Rio Lacanlale/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Violent robbery at Las Vegas convenience store
Surveillance video shows two men robbing another man at a convenience store in the 500 block of East Sahara Ave. on October 4th. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Las Vegas police investigate a fatal stabbing - VIDEO
Las Vegas police are investigating a fatal stabbing that happened at Indian Hills apartments on Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019. (Bizu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Metro updates about injured police dog - VIDEO
Tactical physician for SWAT Marc O'Griofa gives an update Metro Headquarters in Las Vegas about police dog Hunter’s recovery after he suffered stab wounds while helping take a wanted man into custody during a barricade on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Man fatally stabbed at central Las Vegas apartments - VIDEO
Las Vegas police are investigating a fatal stabbing in the central valley Sunday evening. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Stabbing investigated at Las Vegas apartments - VIDEO
Homicide Lt. Ray Spencer briefs the media on a fatal stabbing at the Indian Hills apartments in the central valley on Sunday evening, Oct. 27, 2019. (Alexis Egeland/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
DUI Strike Team reaches 1,000 arrests in first year - VIDEO
Las Vegas Metro Police DUI Strike Team has reached 1,000 DUI-related arrests. (Alexis Egeland/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
2 arrested after vehicle chase - VIDEO
Two people were arrested Thursday morning, Oct. 24, 2019, after police chased a stolen car through the northwest valley. (Max Michor/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raymond Young, charged with sexual assault and robbery, appears in court
Raymond Young, 21, charged with sexual assault and robbery, appears in court during his bail hearing at the Regional Justice Center in Las Vegas. Police located Young after he contacted one of the women via Snapchat on Oct. 15 and demanded that she send him more nude photos. (Bizuayehy Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Bail hearing for Christopher Prestipino and Lisa Mort - Video
A bail hearing and court appearance for Christopher Prestipino and Lisa Mort who are charged in connection with the death of Esmeralda Gonzalez, Oct. 22, 2019. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
North Las Vegas police ask for assistance in officer-involved shooting
The North Las Vegas Police Department is seeking assistance in finding two burglary suspects on Sept. 6, 2019. Officers pursued their vehicle resulted in a patrol car being rammed and officers discharging their weapons. The suspects were in a white Ford F-150. (North Las Vegas Police Department)
North Las Vegas police officer was injured
A North Las Vegas police officer was injured early Friday when a driver rammed his patrol car in an incident that led to police gunfire. About 2:30 a.m., a pair of North Las Vegas police officers tried to stop a suspicious vehicle near Decatur Boulevard and West Tropical Parkway. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
The 20th anniversary of Karla Rodriguez's disappearance
At a news conference with Las Vegas law enforcement officials early Friday, Karla Rodriguez’s parents asked the public to help find their daughter, who hasn’t been seen in 20 years. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Byron Lee Williams Update
NEW INFORMATION IS COMING OUT ABOUT THE SEPTEMBER DEATH OF MAN IN LAS VEGAS POLICE CUSTODY. TODAY THE CORONERS OFFICE IS RULING THE DEATH OF 50 BYRON LEE WILLIAMS’ AS A HOMICIDE.
What is your astrological sign-crime?
Based on data from Clark County crime reports, what crime do you think your sign commits the most? (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Samuel Little Confession: Las Vegas, Nevada - VIDEO
Samuel Little, 79, has confessed to 93 murders. He is currently in prison in Texas. Law enforcement has confirmed more than half of his confessions, but some remain unmatched. In a recent interview, Little recalled details of a victim in Las Vegas.
Las Vegas police investigate officer-involved shooting - VIDEO
Las Vegas police investigate after Nevada Highway Patrol troopers shot at then used a Taser on a man who had thrown rocks at them near U.S. Highway 95 and Eastern Avenue on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
East Charleston armed robbery - VIDEO
An armed robbery occurred at a business located on the 3000 block of East Charleston Boulevard just after 9 p.m., Sept. 30, 2019. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Gigi Mitchell Sentenced
A woman prosecutors said used an 11-year-old girl as a prop while prostituting on the Strip was ordered to serve up to six years behind bars on Tuesday. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Day 6 of Bani Duarte trial in California
Police say Bani Duarte, 29, was drunk when she drove into a car carrying four Las Vegas teens, killing three, in Huntington Beach, California on March 29, 2018. She is being tried on murder charges in Santa Ana. (Renee Summeropur/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas police looking for burglary suspects - VIDEO
Las Vegas police are searching for a man and a woman suspected in four burglaries in the southwest valley this month. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Recent deaths of 5 women in Las Vegas Valley have no known ties - VIDEO
The recent deaths of five women in the Las Vegas area have no known connections, according to law enforcement officials, despite an internet rumor of a serial killer in the valley. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Gustavo Ramos-Martinez, convicted of killing two elderly people, ordered to serve life in prison
Gustavo Ramos-Martinez, convicted of killing two elderly people, ordered to serve two sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Bizutesfaye
Paula Davis sings "On the Steps of the Palace"
Paula Davis sings “On the Steps of the Palace,” a song from the musical “Into the Woods,” at a Timeless Tonys performance in 2017. (Lissy de Jesus/YouTube)
Attorneys for Aryan Warriors request leaked documents
Defense attorneys for two Aryan Warriors members accused of murder and racketeering requested documents during a court hearing Wednesday after they were leaked to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Chance Underwood Preliminary Hearing Called Off - Video
Chance Underwood appears in court with his preliminary hearing called off but will have his hearing in October.
Chuck Chaiyakul appears in court
Chuck Chaiyakul,accused of killing a woman and putting her body in a 55-gallon drum, appears in court on Friday. Sept. 6, 2019. (Angus Kelly/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas police fired 6 shots to end standoff at Laughlin casino - VIDEO
SWAT officers fired six rounds Monday morning when they fatally wounded an attempted robbery suspect who pointed a weapon at officers following an hourslong standoff in the Aquarius casino parking lot in Laughlin. (Angus Kelly/Las Vegas Review/Journal)
Paul Browning Released from Ely State Prison - VIDEO
Paul Browning greets his mother, Betty Browning, after being released from Ely State Prison. Browning served 33 years on Nevada’s death row. (Rachel Crosby/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Armed robbery suspect killed in officer-involved shooting at Laughlin casino
An armed robbery suspect was killed by Las Vegas Metropolitan Police officers after six-hour standoff outside the Aquarius Casino in Laughlin on Monday, Aug. 19, 2019. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
THE LATEST
 
Las Vegas DUI suspect charged with second-degree murder

Police reports indicate a Las Vegas man facing multiple charges in connection with in a drunk driving crash early Saturday admitted to investigators that he’d been drinking prior to the collision.