Lawsuit Filed Over Massachusetts Prisons’ Use of Faulty Drug Tests

A Massachusetts lawsuit is seeking to stop the state Department of Corrections from using certain drug tests that the suit describes as faulty and with an 80% rate of false-positive tests.

Full story after the jump.

A lawsuit filed in Massachusetts is seeking to stop the state Department of Corrections (MDOC) from using a drug test manufactured by Sirchie Acquisition Company, LLC that attorneys for plaintiffs describe as faulty. The test is used on incoming mail to inmates and the lawsuit claims have led to a “slew” of false-positive results, with one MDOC employee estimating false-positive results as high as 80%.

Ellen Leonida, a partner at BraunHagey & Borden said they brought the lawsuit “to protect disempowered people incarcerated by the DOC from the unconscionable decision to use these tests in the face of overwhelming evidence of their inaccuracy.”

“We also intend to hold the drug companies liable for knowingly profiting from the misuse of these tests and the misery they are causing.” Leonida in a statement

The lawsuit claims that the Sirchie test claims to detect synthetic cannabinoids but is fooled by innocuous chemicals found in most commercial paper. The complaint alleges the accuracy of the test to “witchcraft, phrenology or simply picking a number out of a hat.”

Once a test comes back positive, prisoners are given two choices: plead guilty and accept punishment or maintain innocence and be subjected to solitary confinement and loss of privileges for months while the agency completes a proper laboratory test. If the prisoner chooses to have a proper test conducted, they are subject to fines and expenses for paying for the test.

The lawsuit contends that the use of the test interferes with the fundamental right to counsel and due process as prisoners fear communication by mail, including with their court-appointed counsel, due to the false positivity rate of the tests.

In addition to the corrections department and Sirchie, the lawsuit names the drug company’s sales agent Premier Biotech, Inc as defendants. Nonprofit law firm Justice Catalyst Law is also representing the plaintiffs.

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