ACLU: Kansas inmate could die without opioid-addiction meds

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WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas and Missouri affiliates of the American Civil Liberties Union have sued the Federal Bureau of Prisons on behalf of an inmate they claim could die without a drug used to treat his opioid addiction.

After an emergency hearing Wednesday in Kansas City, Kansas, U.S. District Judge Carlos Murguia will decide whether to order officials to continue the medication buprenorphine for Leaman Crews. Bureau of Prisons policy denies inmates access to that medication as a treatment for opioid use disorder.

The ACLU argued in a filing Friday that withholding medication violates the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, as well as federal statutes.

“It really wouldn’t be a stretch to call this denial of Mr. Crews’ treatment a death sentence,” Lauren Bonds, legal director for the ACLU of Kansas, said in a news release. “Every minute we wait is another minute of suffering for him.”

Jim Cross, the spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Kansas, said they are evaluating the complaint and will file their response with the court.

Crews reported to the federal prison at Leavenworth on Sept. 4 to begin a three-year sentence after pleading guilty to five counts of wire fraud stemming from his employment at Brewer Science Inc. in Rolla, Missouri, according to filings in his criminal case. Crews, who was the company’s director of information systems, was convicted of using the company credit card to make fictitious purchases. As part of his sentence, he was also ordered to pay more than $1.9 million in restitution.

The ACLU contended in its civil lawsuit that Crews used his position to gain access to the money he used to buy opioids, saying Crews first took opioids for debilitating pain after a serious car accident and became dependent on them.

Crews has entered long-term recovery and has been clean for 15 months with the help of the doctor-prescribed addiction treatment, according to the lawsuit.

Multiple federal agencies have embraced the medical consensus that the standard of care to treat opioid use disorder is Medication for Addition Treatment, or MAT, said Tony Rothert, legal director and interim executive director of the ACLU of Missouri.

“The medical consensus doesn’t change in the correctional environment,” Rothert said. “U.S. attorneys’ offices have even initiated investigations against state and local correctional institutions that withhold MAT from inmates.”

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