03/18/2016 17:54 EDT | Updated 03/19/2017 01:12 EDT

B.C. inmates say difficulty accessing opiate replacements unconstitutional

VANCOUVER — Four heroin-addicted inmates in British Columbia jails have launched a charter challenge to gain access to opiate addiction treatment.

They allege B.C. Corrections' policies are blocking them from being prescribed methadone or suboxone if they don't meet specific criteria.

Their lawyer, Adrienne Smith, who filed the court challenge and an application to suspend the policy in the interim, argues the opiate replacement drugs would prevent illicit drug use behind bars.

Smith says inmates in some B.C. institutions have overdosed and she's afraid one of her clients could die while awaiting trial if an exemption isn't granted.

B.C. Corrections did not immediately respond to request for comment.

The prisoners want the option of consulting with a doctor in jail, and Smith contends they should be afforded the same health-care options they would be offered in the community.

She says prescription replacement drugs for heroin addicts cost an estimated $4,000 annually, but the price is $60,000 for someone who contracts hepatitis C, or $14,000 a year to treat a case of HIV.

The Canadian Press