Peter MarcusPeter MarcusJuly 24, 20174min325

The ACLU of Colorado filed a federal class action lawsuit last week aimed at pressuring the Colorado Department of Corrections to expand treatment for prisoners with Hepatitis C.

The civil rights group says as many as 2,200 prisoners are suffering from the life-threatening illness.

“Colorado has an immense public health crisis in its prisons,” said Mark Silverstein, legal director for the ACLU of Colorado.

He pointed out that one-in-nine prisoners suffers from Hepatitis C. Complications from the disease kill nearly as many Coloradans in custody every year as drug and alcohol abuse, homicide, and suicide combined, Silverstein said.

“Highly effective treatment is available that could prevent deaths and fight the spread of the virus, but DOC’s cruel and arbitrary standards deny that treatment to all but a select few prisoners, in violation of established medical standards and the Eighth Amendment,” Silverstein said.

The Department of Corrections says it has cared for 80 prisoners with new treatment options over the past two years. The department is working to expand treatment needs.

Hepatitis C is a chronic communicable disease that attacks the liver, causing diminished function, cirrhosis, and liver failure. It is the most deadly infectious disease in the U.S., killing more Americans than the next 60 infectious diseases combined.

Early stages of the disease involves chronic fatigue, depression, arthritis, as well as an increased risk of heart attacks, diabetes, nerve damage, jaundice, and various cancers.

The FDA has approved breakthrough medications over the past four years that can cure the disease in more than 90 percent of cases. Colorado prisons officials are working to expand implementation of the drugs.

But the ACLU of Colorado says prisoners suffering from Hepatitis C are not considered for treatment until they have sustained significant liver damage. Prisoners are required to enroll in alcohol and drug therapy that can take more than two years to complete, a requirement that, according to the ACLU complaint, has no medical justification.

The ACLU’s complaint alleges that DOC officials are deliberately allowing the vast majority of prisoners who are not selected for treatment to suffer and die from untreated Hepatitis C.

Based on the Department of Correction’s current schedule, it would take more than 10 years to treat the 735 prisoners that are currently eligible for the new drugs, according to the ACLU complaint.

“Despite the availability of a cure, DOC plans to leave thousands of prisoners untreated, to continue releasing those untreated prisoners back to the community with a communicable disease, and to accept years of additional deaths and serious medical complications from untreated Hepatitis C,” Silverstein said.  “Not only is that dangerous for public health, it is a cruel way to save some money in the short term that may end up costing taxpayers a lot more in the long term.”


Peter MarcusPeter MarcusJune 26, 20174min408

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear arguments in a case between New Mexico and Colorado stemming from the devastating 2015 Gold King Mine spill.

The New Mexico Attorney General’s Office and the state Environment Department announced last year that it filed a complaint against Colorado with the U.S. Supreme Court. It sought damages and demands that Colorado address problems at draining mines in southwest Colorado.

Former New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ryan Flynn alleged that his water quality researchers rejected assertions from Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Colorado environment officials that the Animas River quickly returned to safe pre-event conditions after the August 2015 spill of toxic heavy metals.

Flynn and attorneys for his department at the time suggested that Colorado is liable for the incident, which spilled 3 million gallons of sludge into the Animas in Durango, turning it a mustard yellow color. The spill fouled rivers in three Western states with arsenic, lead and other heavy metals.

The EPA acknowledged fault in the spill, in which sludge flowed into creeks and rivers during restoration work at Gold King. The flow headed into the San Juan River in New Mexico and Utah.

The EPA employed contractors whose work trigged the incident. The agency acknowledged fault, which it said was the result of insufficient planning during excavation work at the entrance to the mine near Silverton. Debris gave way after the EPA team failed to properly assess pressure inside the mine.

“Because it was the EPA and not Colorado that caused the Gold King Mine disaster, I have said from the beginning that New Mexico should not have sued Colorado in the Supreme Court,” Republican Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said in a statement following the Supreme Court’s announcement. “Now that my office has won the Supreme Court case, I hope the conversation can focus on the EPA and its promise to take full responsibility for its actions.”

Colorado officials with the Department of Natural Resources have maintained that its Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety was never on board with the EPA’s restoration plan. But an internal investigation by the EPA determined that the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety agreed to put drainage piping through the entrance of the mine, contributing to the spill.

During the spill, water utilities shut down intake valves and farmers stopped drawing from the rivers as the plume moved downstream.

The Supreme Court was an appropriate venue for the case against Colorado, as it involved two states suing each other. But the high court declined to hear arguments in the case, though it did not issue an opinion explaining the decision. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito said they would let the lawsuit move forward.


Peter MarcusPeter MarcusMarch 2, 20176min449
The Colorado Court of Appeals on Thursday sent a case back to a lower court that could leave future funding for state and local elections in jeopardy. The case, filed by the National Federation of Independent Business, claims that businesses carry an unfair burden of the cost of funding state and county elections. The business group […]

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