2020 San Pedro California April 30: Federal Correctional Institution Terminal Island prison. Half the inmates there were infected with coronavirus.

Carceral Health Care Is Designed to Fail

By Andrea C. Armstrong

COVID-19 is not the first pandemic within prisons. Modern history is littered with examples of disease outbreaks in carceral spaces, including tuberculosis, influenza, and MRSA. Like these earlier carceral pandemics, the over 620,000 COVID-19 infections and 3,100 related deaths among incarcerated individuals to date simply expose how U.S. health law and policy fails to protect people in custody.

Only incarcerated people have a constitutional right to healthcare in the United States. That right, however, is rendered toothless when supplied through a punitive system that lacks meaningful standards and robust oversight.

Here is what we know — despite the secrecy that shields penal institutions — about carceral health care.

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WASHINGTON, DC - OCT. 2, 2021: Women's March in Washington demanding continued access to abortion after the ban on most abortions in Texas, and looming threat to Roe v Wade in upcoming Supreme Court.

How the Dobbs Ruling Will Affect People with Substance Use Disorder

By Hayfa Ayoubi and Karishma Trivedi

At the young age of 21, Regina McKnight unexpectedly suffered a stillbirth due to umbilical inflammation. She was a grieving mother, but to the state of South Carolina, she was a killer. In 2001, prosecutors charged McKnight with homicide allegedly caused by her use of cocaine while pregnant. The jury in the case returned a guilty verdict after deliberating for thirty minutes. It was not until years later in 2008 that her wrongful conviction was overturned by the state’s Supreme Court

Unfortunately, McKnight is one of many marginalized women of color who make up the majority of individuals criminally prosecuted for substance use during pregnancy. Now that the constitutional protection for abortion under Roe v. Wade has been overturned, more women like McKnight will have the full power of the state brought to bear on them through forced procedures, surveillance, and jail sentences solely because they happened to get pregnant. 

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Brooklyn, New York, United States - JUNE 13 2021: Protest in Brooklyn, NY for trans youth rights.

Misleading, Coercive Language in Bills Barring Trans Youth Access to Gender Affirming Care

By Arisa R. Marshall

On Friday, a federal judge temporarily enjoined part of a new Alabama law that would make it a felony for physicians to provide gender-affirming care to trans youth. The law had been in effect for less than a week.

This is only the most recent development relating to a raft of anti-trans legislation sweeping the country. More than twenty bills that would impose life-changing healthcare restrictions on transgender children have been introduced in statehouses nationwide over the past two years, threatening the wellbeing of transgender youth and communities. Most of these bills aim to entirely ban gender-affirming medical care for minors, including surgeries, prescription puberty blockers, and hormone replacement therapies.

These laws are detrimental to the mental, physical, and social health of children. They are dismissive of the experiences of transgender children and teenagers, misleading, and manipulative.

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United States Capitol Building - Washington, DC.

Psychedelic Policy on the Federal Level: Key Takeaways from a Petrie-Flom Center Panel

By James R. Jolin

To navigate the myriad interests and stakes involved in creating federal psychedelic policy, the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School convened a virtual panel discussion with three leading psychedelic policy advocates.

The conversation was situated against the backdrop of the “psychedelics renaissance” in the United States, which has been fueled by a wave of local and state legislation reducing or eliminating the criminal penalties associated with these substances.

Though many localities have made significant strides in addressing the legal questions surrounding psychedelic substances such as psilocybin and dimethyltryptamine (DMT), federal policymakers have not pursued similar initiatives.

Suggestions and considerations for federal psychedelic policy thus formed the substance of the discussion among the panelists:

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Businessman's hands typing on laptop keyboard in morning light

Microdosing at Work: Business and Legal Implications

By Vincent Sliwoski

In light of the widespread cultural and business culture adoption of microdosing, private sector employers should reconsider the implications of a blanket prohibition on workplace use of controlled substances.

Microdosing is the practice of ingesting subperceptual amounts of psychedelic drugs, such as psilocybin mushrooms or LSD. People microdose for a variety of reasons. These may include medical reasons, such as the treatment of anxiety, depression or attention disorders; or they may include “performance” reasons, like attempts to increase productivity, creativity or awareness.

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Red corded telephone handset on blue background, top view. Hotline concept

To Promote Health Equity, States Must Restrict Police Intervention in Mobile Crisis Response

By April Shaw and Taleed El-Sabawi

The COVID-19 pandemic and recent increases in the incidence of televised violence against Black persons by law enforcement actors and others have contributed to the worsening mental health of these subordinated and marginalized communities. While the policy solutions needed to address this disparate impact are structural and multi-faceted, the introduction of 988, a national mental health crisis hotline, offers an opportunity to positively contribute to the overall goals of decreasing police interactions with Black and Brown communities.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a Final Rule designating 988 as a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline in September 2020. Congress later passed the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020 codifying 988 as the dialing code. Per the FCC Final Rule, states are required to implement 988 into their networks by July 2022.

States have wide latitude in how they implement 988, and though many will likely stop at the bare minimum of creating a suicide prevention hotline, 988 could be coupled with the creation of police alternative (or non-police) mobile responses that assist with de-escalation, stabilization, and connection to treatment. Non-police responses promise to decrease police interaction, excessive use of force, and criminalization of mental illness. Such non-police responses have gained in national popularity due in large part to organization and protests led by Black Lives Matters activists.

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Up close shot of an orange prison jumpsuit

Prison Health Care is Broken Under the Medicaid Inmate Exclusion Policy

By Sarah Wang

Incarcerated individuals need health care, but punitive policies make securing access to care particularly difficult among this population, which numbers about 2.1 million as of 2021.

As a first step to protecting incarcerated individuals’ right to health, Congress should repeal the Medicaid Inmate Exclusion Policy (MIEP).

The MIEP, established in 1965, prohibits Medicaid from covering incarcerated individuals, despite any prior eligibility. Through the MIEP, two populations are affected: first, jail inmates, defined as those convicted or accused of a crime, and second, prison inmates, defined as those convicted or awaiting trial. In other words, both convicted individuals and those still presumed innocent are stripped of their access to the federal health insurance program for low-income individuals.

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Mushrooms containing psilocybin grow in the forest.

Washington Psilocybin Bill Would Legalize Supported Adult Use

By Mason Marks

On Tuesday, Washington State legislators filed SB 5660, a bill that would legalize the supported adult use of psilocybin by people 21 years of age and older.

Sponsored by Senators Jesse Salomon and Liz Lovelett, the bill, known as the Washington Psilocybin Wellness and Opportunity Act, includes many innovative features including a Social Opportunity Program to help address harms caused by the war on drugs, a provision to support small businesses, and accommodations for people with certain medical conditions to receive the psychedelic substance at home.

I had the privilege of helping to draft the Washington Psilocybin Services Wellness and Opportunity Act with input from the Psychedelic Medicine Alliance of Washington and my colleague John Rapp of the law firm Harris Bricken. We had previously collaborated on the psychedelic decriminalization resolution adopted unanimously by the Seattle City Council.

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