Man’s Arrest for Halting His Own Tuberculosis Treatment Spurs Debate
San Joaquin County officials and some public health experts are divided over the arrest of a Stockton patient who stopped taking medication for tuberculosis, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports.
TB is a bacterial infection that typically attacks a patient's lungs and can spread through the air. The active form of the infection mostly affects adults whose immune systems are compromised.
On Tuesday, authorities arrested Armando Rodriguez -- who has active pulmonary TB -- and charged him with refusing to comply with a public health order to be at home at certain times and make appointments to take medication.
According to authorities, Rodriguez said he had consumed large amounts of alcohol and methamphetamines and stopped TB treatment because he did not want to hurt his liver.
Ginger Wick, nursing director for San Joaquin County, wrote in a letter requesting an arrest warrant for Rodriguez that he could become contagious because he had not complied with the treatment order.
On Thursday, Rodriguez is expected to be arraigned on two misdemeanor accounts. A public defender likely will be appointed to Rodriguez.
Each of the charges that Rodriguez faces carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail.
Opposing the Arrest
Lawrence Gostin -- a Georgetown University public health law professor -- said that imposing mandatory treatment should be a last resort and that criminally prosecuting someone for disobeying a public health order sends the wrong message.
He said, "The whole intention is to protect the public's health. It's not to lay blame on someone." Gostin recommended providing assistance to patients, such asÂ offering transportation to and from treatments.
Supporting the Arrest
Karen Furst -- San Joaquin County public health officer -- said the county arranges transportation and other services to help certain patients adhere to drug regimens and only uses the legal system as a last resort. She said, "I have to make sure that if I'm aware that somebody is in a position that could possibly be spreading a disease to another person, that I take steps that are necessary to prevent that from happening."
Prosecutor Stephen Taylor said San Joaquin County is more aggressive than other jurisdictions in prosecuting patients to make them take medication. Taylor said, "The criminal cases we're dealing with generally involve drug users who are harder to treat and manage because the TB medicines conflict with street drugs." He added, "We have to throw these people in jail and treat them as in-patients" (AP/Sacramento Bee, 5/16).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.