Armando Rodriguez, 34, is a Stockton resident who has an active case of pulmonary tuberculosis. Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection. Active cases of tuberculosis can be spread by coughing blood or phlegm into the air.
Although many people have the disease, it generally remains inactive in people with a healthy immune system.
In March, Rodriguez was released from San Joaquin General Hospital. Upon his release, he agreed to take medication under the supervision of a county health official.
Rodriguez told a health officer that he did not want to harm his liver with the tuberculosis medication after he had consumed alcohol and taken methamphetamine. He then missed an appointment and was not at home on three occasions to take his medication.
Despite receiving several warnings, Rodriguez failed to continue taking his tuberculosis medication.
On Tuesday, May 15, Rodriguez was arrested for refusing to comply with a tuberculosis order to take his medication under the observation of health officials. Rodriguez pleaded not guilty to two misdemeanor charges.
Because he is a drug user, his case was much more difficult to manage. In this instance, officials felt that arresting Rodriguez was the best option.
Judge Brett Morgan denied Rodriguez’s request for release. Judge Morgan said that he did not feel comfortable letting Rodriguez out of jail due to his drug and alcohol abuse.
Tuberculosis Poses Public Health Risk
Tuberculosis has been declared a public health risk. Active cases of tuberculosis are extremely contagious. Because of the dangers posed by patients with active cases of tuberculosis, health officials have been granted special authority to put special restrictions on patients with the disease.
In California, the local health commissioner can require a patient to schedule appointments to take their medication.
Public health officers struggle to prevent the spread of the disease. Although regulations vary from state to state, laws that attempt to prevent the spread of tuberculosis have been in effect for over 100 years. Officials have reported that several drug-resistant strains of the tuberculosis bacteria have emerged in recent years.
Criminal Justice Meets Public Health
This case marks an interesting intersection of criminal justice and public health. It is highly unusual to arrest someone for posing a public health risk. Officials argue that his arrest was a necessary step to protect the public from becoming exposed to the disease.
Many health officials believe that prosecution is the wrong approach. Instead, patients should have access to transportation to receive their treatments. A county public health officer stated that the county does arrange transportation to ensure that patients take their medications on time.
Prosecution is used only as a last resort.
According to prosecutor Stephen Taylor, San Joaquin County has had over 30 tuberculosis-related prosecutions since 1984. The county is more aggressive than other counties in the state. Because the tuberculosis medicines conflict with many street drugs, patients often don’t cooperate on their own.
Some officials argue that it is necessary to incarcerate the patients so that they can receive their medications. One health official stated that Rodriguez will require close to nine months of treatment for his case.
Other states handle public health threats differently. In New York and Virginia, a judge can order a non-compliant patient to be detained in a medical facility if they continue to engage in risky behavior.