Active TB patient charged for refusing to take meds

A San Joaquin County tuberculosis patient has been arrested for missing medical appointments and failing to take his medication, acts that could pose a danger to public health.

Armando Rodriguez informed a case officer that he stopped his TB treatment due to concerns for his liver while taking methamphetamine and binging on alcohol. On Tuesday, authorities arrested Rodriguez and charged him with refusing to comply with a tuberculosis order to make appointments to take his medication and be home at certain times, Associated Press reports.

Rodriguez has active pulmonary tuberculosis, which can spread through the air and infect others. Arresting patients who refuse to comply with treatment is an issue that has divided public health officials.

"I think it's an error to confine someone in the criminal justice system for a public health crime," Lawrence Gostin, a Georgetown University public health law professor, said, according to Associated Press. "The whole intention is to protect the public's health. It's not to lay blame on someone."

Rodriguez failed to give himself the drugs before informing a nurse he abstained from the medication to protect his liver. He is expected to be arraigned on Thursday on two misdemeanor counts. While federal and state officials do not keep records of people prosecuted for refusing to take TB medicine, some say it is very rare for criminal charges to be filed in such matters.

"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," Stephen Taylor, a prosecutor, said, according to Associated Press. "We have to throw these people in jail and treat them as in-patients. They don't cooperate as out-patients."

Each allegation against Rodriguez carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison. Rodriguez would likely need nine months worth of treatment to be rid of the bacterial infection.