On September 9, 2019, the ACLU of Kansas and the ACLU of Missouri filed a request for emergency injunctive relief on behalf of Leaman Crews against the Federal Bureau of Prisons for its life-threatening and discriminatory denial of necessary medical treatment.
The complaint, filed against defendants Kathleen Hawk Sawyer, in her official capacity as the Director of the Bureau of Prisons, and Deborah G. Schult, in her official capacity as the Assistant Director for the Health Services Division for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, challenges the BOP's blanket denial of crucial treatment for opioid use disorder for all inmates – even those already taking the prescription upon entering custody — as violating the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
Crews had been taking buprenorphine, an opioid addiction medication, to treat his illness and had been clean for 14 months before reporting to the Leavenworth federal penitentiary on Wednesday, September 4, to serve a three-year sentence for embezzlement. Prison officials denied Crews buprenorphine and, instead, opted to treat him with codeine to prevent withdrawal. Codeine could reinforce the cycle of addiction, predisposing Crews to a risk of relapse.
Opioid use disorder afflicts millions in the U.S., and forced withdrawal can be extremely painful. It carries a high risk of numerous serious complications.
*UPDATE* On September 11, 2019, the parties reached a temporary settlement in the case, giving Mr. Crews access to his medication for the next several months.