The American Civil Liberties Union is suing a federal prison in Kansas to force it to provide an inmate with the opioid addiction drug buprenorphine, saying the man would “inevitably suffer and possibly die” without it, the New York Times reports. Officials at the Leavenworth federal penitentiary are not providing inmate Leaman Crews with the buprenorphine he needs to stay sober, said the ACLU’s Lauren Bonds. Instead, she said, they are medicating him with codeine, an opioid, to keep him from going through a painful withdrawal, and Tylenol. Federal Judge Carlos Murguia will decide after an emergency hearing Wednesday afternoon whether prison officials are obligated to provide Crews with buprenorphine.
Before reporting to Leavenworth last week to serve a three-year sentence for embezzlement, Crews, 45, had been in recovery for 14 months with the aid of the medication, Bonds said. “It is a rare feat for that long a period,” she said, referring to using buprenorphine during recovery to treat addiction. “It was kind of a success story.” The federal Bureau of Prisons, which incarcerates nearly 180,000 people, estimates that close to 40 percent of inmates enter the federal prison system with a substance abuse problem. For federal inmates, methadone and — much less frequently — buprenorphine are usually prescribed for detoxing, as opposed to hedging cravings and maintaining sobriety. By providing Crews with codeine, the prison was “making his opioid addiction worse,” said Michael Pantalon of the Yale School of Medicine. “He will have codeine to reinforce his opioid addiction rather than the medications that would treat it,” Dr. Pantalon said