This story was updated at 10 a.m. on Sept. 12, 2019, to reflect comments from the Bureau of Prisons.
The federal Bureau of Prisons will provide opioid addiction treatment for a prisoner at the Leavenworth penitentiary, according to a settlement reached Wednesday.
The American Civil Liberties Union in Kansas and Missouri had sued earlier in the week on behalf of Leaman Crews. He began a three-year sentence at the prison earlier this month and had been using buprenorphine, a medication used to counter the effects of opioid withdrawal.
With the help of the medication, Crews had not used drugs for 15 months prior to entering Leavenworth.
An ACLU press release said Crews and the Bureau of Prisons reached a settlement agreement in which Crews would start getting buprenorphine on Wednesday evening.
“When he was deprived of medication for the last week, until we were able to reach this agreement with the Bureau of Prisons, he’d been suffering tremendously,” said Lauren Bonds, legal director of the ACLU of Kansas. “He’s dealt with withdrawal from the medication he was receiving, so it’s very important for our client’s health.”
The ACLU had argued that denying inmates access to buprenorphine treatment is a violation of the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which forbids cruel and unusual punishment. The group also contended a denial ran afoul of the Rehabilitation Act, which bans federal programs from discriminating against people with disabilities.
The settlement does not address treatment for other inmates in the federal system. The ACLU said in the release that it’ll pursue lawsuits in the future to get other prisoners access to opioid treatment.
Bonds said in a phone interview that ultimately, the organization will push for a change in the Bureau of Prisons’ policy,
“Then we wouldn’t have to deal with this on such an ad hoc, case-by-case basis,” she said. “It would just ensure everyone who needs this medication is just getting it.”
The suit alleged that the agency denied Crews access to buprenorphine as part of a policy to only give inmates the medication while they are detoxing and to wean them off the medication after several days.
That lawsuit said Crews is recovering from a decade-long addiction to opioids following a car accident and had been taking buprenorphine throughout his recovery.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ latest data from 2004, about half of the people incarcerated in federal prisons had symptoms of substance abuse or dependency.
In an email, the Bureau of Prisons said it does not comment on litigation. The agency said it gives methadone or buprenorphine to inmates on a case-by-case basis and gives Vivitrol, another medication used to treat opioid addiction, to inmates two months before release.
Nomin Ujiyediin reports on criminal justice and social welfare for the Kansas News Service. Follow her on Twitter @NominUJ or email nomin (at) kcur (dot) org.
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