ACLU-WA lawsuit settled: Federal prison system agrees to provide medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder

For the third time in the past year, the Bureau of Prisons agreed to go against its policy of denying treatment to non-pregnant inmates in response to litigation

Affiliate: ACLU of Washington
December 11, 2019 3:00 pm

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The federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has agreed to provide “Medication-Assisted Treatment” (MAT) to Melissa Godsey, who has opioid use disorder and has been in active recovery with MAT for over a year, as part of the settlement agreement in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Washington.

The lawsuit, Godsey v. Sawyer, challenged BOP’s policy of refusing to provide people with opioid use disorder access to MAT, including Suboxone (buprenorphine and naloxone), even though BOP provides other clinically appropriate medications to inmates.

“I’m relieved that I’ll be able to continue on the medication that has been critical to my recovery,” said Ms. Godsey. “At the same time, it saddens me to know that other people entering BOP facilities are not guaranteed to receive access to the medications they need to help them overcome their opioid use disorder. They deserve medical treatment as much as I do.”

Current BOP policies prohibit someone from continuing on MAT for treatment of opioid use disorder unless the inmate is pregnant. People with opioid use disorder who are denied their medication face an increased risk of relapse, overdose, and death, in addition to suffering from painful and unnecessary withdrawal.

The settlement in Godsey represents the third time in 2019 that BOP has agreed to provide MAT as part of a settlement agreement. In June, BOP agreed to provide MAT to Stephanie DiPierro to settle a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Massachusetts, DiPierro v. Hurwitz. In September, BOP agreed to provide MAT to Leaman Crews to settle a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Kansas and ACLU of Missouri, Crews v. Sawyer.

The Godsey settlement builds on state and local efforts by the ACLU-WA to increase access to MAT. In April 2019, the Whatcom County Jail agreed to provide MAT to all medically appropriate inmates with opioid use disorder as part of the settlement agreement in the ACLU-WA lawsuit, Kortlever et al v. Whatcom County.

“We are happy that these cases are building momentum for policy changes that will allow all inmates with opioid use disorder in federal, state, and local facilities to access Medication-Assisted Treatment,” said Mark Cooke, Policy Director, ACLU-WA Smart Justice Campaign.

Along with Cooke, Lisa Nowlin and John Midgley of the ACLU-WA represented Godsey, together with Bart Freedman and Christina Elles of K&L Gates LLP.

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