In the summer of 2018, the opioid crisis was making daily headlines, and a team of Goodwin IP litigators was embroiled in a battle over a preliminary injunction that sought to prevent the launch of our client’s lower-cost, generic version of Suboxone film, a treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD). While that fight played out in federal district court — which granted the motion, halting our client’s launch — and in an expedited appeal, the ACLU of Massachusetts reached out to Goodwin to seek assistance in pursuing a preliminary injunction on behalf of an individual to ensure he continued to receive his necessary methadone treatment for OUD during a short incarceration for a minor offense. The client had been in recovery on methadone for years, he was doing well at work, and had reestablished good relationships with his parents and young son. Denying him medication while incarcerated threatened to undo all of that progress. The head of Goodwin’s pro bono committee at the time was an IP litigation colleague, and he knew just the team to take on the fight.
We sprang into action, preparing the complaint and motion, all while leveraging our existing knowledge base regarding treatment of OUD and our relationships with experts in the field. By mid-September, we had filed a complaint and a motion for preliminary injunction — supported by hundreds of pages of witness declarations and exhibits — on grounds that our client had a constitutional right to adequate treatment for his OUD while incarcerated, and that denial of such treatment would discriminate against him on the basis of his disability in violation of federal law. The court heard oral argument in early November, and I was honored to have the opportunity to argue the motion on our client’s behalf.
The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, the appellate court in our IP case vacated the preliminary injunction, paving the way for the first generic Suboxone film products to hit the market. Meanwhile, we hoped for more good news in our pro bono case. The following Monday after the holiday we got the decision from the Massachusetts district court: the preliminary injunction was granted, and the jail would be required to continue our client’s treatment during his incarceration. Reading the decision sparked tears of joy.
Goodwin has since handled multiple cases like this one, seeking medically-necessary OUD treatment for inmates in local, state, and federal facilities. Our litigation victories have come at the same time that jails across the country have continued to expand access to OUD treatments. Studies have shown that offering such treatment in jail not only improves outcomes for the inmates themselves, but also in their surrounding communities at large.
I still hear from our first client’s father from time to time. The family is doing well, and he credits our work for helping his son stay in recovery from OUD. It remains one of my proudest moments as a lawyer to know how our team helped their family in their time of need.