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Federal Prisoner to Receive Opioid Addiction Medication While Incarcerated

by Kevin Bliss

The federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) came to an agreement September 11, 2019, with Leaman Crews to provide him buprenorphine for opioid use disorder (OUD) during his 36-month prison sentence.

Represented by Lauren Bonds of the Kansas Foundation of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Anthony Rothert of the Missouri Foundation of the ACLU, Crews filed a motion for emergency injunctive relief, alleging that buprenorphine was prescribed to him for his 10-year-long addiction. He had been using the medication for 15 months and to discontinue it could lead to painful withdrawals and possibly death.

Crews was first prescribed an opioid-based medication after he was involved in a serious car accident. He became addicted and began using money from his job to buy opioids. He sought treatment, and his doctor placed him on buprenorphine to combat his addiction.

The BOP’s policy is to automatically deny buprenorphine to all prisoners with OUD for pain maintenance therapy. After Crews pleaded to a 15-month sentence, his attorney contacted the BOP requesting assurances that Crews would continue his physician-prescribed medication.

Counsel for the BOP would not confirm that the Bureau would deviate from its blanket refusal. Crews’ attorneys then filed a Request for Emergency Injunctive a relief.

The motion stated that opioid addiction was a national public health crisis. Statistics showed that 2.1 million Americans suffered from this disease as of 2016.

Overdoses have increased 600% from 1999 to 2017. An average of 130 people each day (or one person every 12.5 minutes) dies from opioid overdose.

The President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis put out a Final Report in 2017, which stated that individuals released from prison have an elevated risk of overdosing from opioids if not treated, accounting for nearly 50% of all deaths among those released from prison in 2015.

Medication-assisted Treatment (MAT) is now the standard of care approved by the FDA, World Health Organization, Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

“SAMHSA concluded that ‘just as it is inadvisable to deny people with diabetes the medication they need to help manage their illness, it is also not sound medical practice to deny people with OUD access to FDA-approved medications for this illness.’ SAMHSA has also highlighted that ‘dosing and schedules of pharmacotherapy must be individualized,’ and that some individuals may require ‘lifelong treatment,’” read Crews’ motion. See: Crews v. Sawyer, U.S.D.C. D. KS, Case No. 2:19-cv-02541-CM-ADM.


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Related legal case

Crews v. Sawyer