Drug test strips.

Synthetic Cannabinoids and the Lack of Substance Use Disorder Treatment in Carceral Settings

By Aaron Steinberg, Ada Lin, Alice Bukhman, LaToya Whiteside, and Elizabeth Matos

The inability of prisons and jails to address the drivers of and treat substance use disorders, especially during the pandemic, is leading to underexplored health ramifications for prisoners, and particularly for prisoners who identify as Black, Indigenous, or other people of color (BIPOC), who already had comparatively poorer health outcomes.

This article focuses on one substance of growing popularity in carceral settings: synthetic cannabinoids (SC), which are frequently referred to as K2 or spice.

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scoreboard with home and guests written on it at sunset time.

A Mind Is A Terrible _____ To Waste

By Vincent “Tank” Sherrill

You fill in the blank! I’ve often referred to the mind as a womb, or a laboratory of life, not a “thing,” but rather a place where thoughts and ideas are conceived. However, since COVID-19 has been introduced on the scene, I’ve watched a cold game being played inside two Washington State prisons: the game between “The Progression of the Mind versus The Regression of the Mind.”

I didn’t have a front row seat in the Colosseum to this American tragedy; I was one of the 2.3 million sacrificial bodies. (Some of these bodies were released, back into a society not prepared to receive, due to their own post-COVID health needs.)

Supposedly, under the watchful eye of Lady Justice, prisoners are afforded certain inalienable rights and privileges, like religious and education services, for the redemptive qualities they both provide. However, due to this plague of epic proportion within these walls (some ancient, and some modern), which have made my domicile for 28 years, these basic services that provide the space for the Mind to grow, develop, and reconcile ceased.

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cells with the doors closed at a historic Idaho prison.

The Pandemic Prison

By Dan Berger

The pandemic prison has utilized several of the worst features of incarceration as a foundational part of how the institution governs “public health” for its captives. And because prisons are never as removed from society as proponents like to think, these protocols redound far beyond the prison system itself.

The scale of COVID-19 in jails, prisons, and detention centers was expected. These institutions are defined by close quarters, poor health care, and, at least initially, little or no personal protective equipment. From the earliest days of the pandemic, anyone paying attention to jails, prisons, and detention centers knew that they would be vectors of community spread.

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Medical Hospital: Neurologist and Neurosurgeon Talk, Use Computer, Analyse Patient MRI Scan, Diagnose Brain. Brain Surgery Health Clinic Lab: Two Professional Physicians Look at CT Scan. Close-up.

Creating Brain-Forward Policies Amid a ‘Mass Deterioration Event’

By Emily R.D. Murphy

COVID-19 will be with us — in our society and in our brains — for the foreseeable future. Especially as death and severe illness rates have dropped since the introduction of vaccines and therapeutics, widespread and potentially lasting brain effects of COVID have become a significant source of discussion, fear, and even pernicious rumors about the privileged deliberately seeking competitive economic advantages by avoiding COVID (by continuing to work from home and use other peoples’ labor to avoid exposures) and its consequent brain damage.

This symposium contribution focuses specifically on COVID’s lasting effects in our brains, about which much is still unknown. It is critical to focus on this — notwithstanding the uncertainty about what happens, to how many, and for how long — for two reasons. First, brain problems (and mental health) are largely invisible and thus overlooked and deprioritized. And second, our current disability laws and policies that might be thought to deal with the problem are not up to the looming task. Instead, we should affirmatively consider what brain-forward policies and governance could look like, building on lessons from past pandemics and towards a future of more universal support and structural accommodation of diminishment as well as disability.

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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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Bill of Health - A worker gives directions as motorists wait in lines to get the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine in a parking lot at Dodger Stadium, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Los Angeles, covid vaccine distribution

Countercyclical Aid Is Not Enough to Fix the Broken US Approach to Public Health Financing

By Philip Rocco

In the last month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s failed responses to COVID-19, ranging from “testing to data to communications,” have prompted a call to reorganize the agency.

Yet restructuring the CDC will have little effect on pandemic preparedness if the decentralized American approach to health finance remains in place. This structure was already stripped bare by decades of state and local austerity even before the first cases of COVID-19 were identified, and has been further worn down since 2020.

If the pandemic has taught us anything about public policy, it is that the model of countercyclical federal aid — which expands at the onset of an economic crisis but abates as that crisis is resolved — is fundamentally inadequate when applied to the realm of public health.

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The White House, Washington, DC.

The Years of Magical Thinking: Pandemic Necrosecurity Under Trump and Biden

By Martha Lincoln

From spring 2020 through the present day, Americans have endured levels of sickness and death that are outliers among not only wealthy democracies, but around the world. No other country has recorded as many total COVID-19 casualties as the United States — indeed, no other country comes close.

This situation is not happenstance. From early moments in 2020, the concept of a right to health — and indeed, even a right to life — has been discounted in American policy, discourse, and practice. Quite mainstream and influential individuals and institutions — physicians, economists, and think tanks — have urged leaders to shed public health protections — particularly masking — and “move away” from the pandemic. Over the past two years in the United States, leaders in both political parties have capitulated to — if not embraced — the doxa that a certain amount of death and suffering is inevitable in our efforts to overcome (or “live with”) the pandemic. In a piece written during the first months of COVID under Trump, I called this dangerous yet influential outlook necrosecurity: “the cultural idea that mass death among less grievable subjects plays an essential role in maintaining social welfare and public order.”

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Washington DC 09 20 2021. More than 600,000 white flags honor lives lost to COVID, on the National Mall. The art installation " In America: Remember" was created by Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg.

Introduction to the Symposium: Health Law and Policy in an Era of Mass Suffering

By Chloe Reichel and Benjamin A. Barsky

Last spring, the United States crossed the bleak and preventable 1,000,000-death mark for lives lost during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this symposium, our hope is to acknowledge — and mourn — this current era of mass suffering and death.

In particular, we want to reckon with the role of health law and policy in shaping, and at times catalyzing, the impact that the pandemic has had on our loved ones and communities.

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