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Man Jailed for Saying 'No' to TB Drugs

An Olympia, WA, man was jailed in mid-March 1997, for refusing to take his tuberculosis medicine. Kenneth Elkins, 44, was living homeless in Olympia after having been released from McNeil Island Corr. Ctr. in the summer of 1996.

In November, 1996, Elkins was diagnosed with infectious TB and the state paid to quarantine him in a motel while a nurse visited him daily to give him antibiotics. But, according to court documents, Elkins would "escape" from his motel room for trips to a discount store, the motel office, and downtown Olympia.

As a result, the county confined him in Western State Hospital (an insane asylum) for more than two months until he was no longer considered contagious. After his release from Western State on February 12, Elkins was supposed to go to the health department to take his pills.

Health officials say Elkins didn't keep those appointments and successfully petitioned the court to have him jailed. He was arrested and placed in the general population section of the Thurston County Jail.

"I didn't know it was that dangerous," said Elkins, a partially paralyzed, insulin-dependent diabetic. "I didn't know it [TB] could kill someone. They might have given me enough [information], but I didn't understand it.

Washington state law allows counties to ask courts to jail those who refuse to take medication. Another TB patient is also jailed in Clark County, Washington. Elkins contracted TB while in prison.

Associated Press

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