An Everett woman scheduled for incarceration next month has filed a lawsuit seeking to require the federal prison to provide her with methadone during her year-long sentence.
The suit, brought Friday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, asks the US District Court in Boston to order the Federal Bureau of Prisons to provide the medication for Stephanie DiPierro, who has relied on prescribed methadone to control her opioid use disorder for about a decade.
Federal prisons, like most correctional institutions around the country, have a policy of not providing such medications to inmates, except for pregnant women.
This is the second ACLU effort to get methadone for an inmate in Massachusetts. In September, it sued the Essex County House of Correction on behalf of a prospective inmate, Geoffrey Pesce. A federal judge ordered the county to provide methadone to Pesce, and last month he began his sentence, becoming the first man in recent decades to receive methadone behind bars in Massachusetts.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons declined to comment on the suit.
The US attorney in Massachusetts has investigated prisons and jails in Massachusetts for failing to provide medications to treat opioid addiction. And yet the federal government’s prisons also deny the treatments.
“Government officials must meet the medical needs of people in their custody,” the suit states. “Yet when it comes to opioid use disorder, a deadly disease that afflicts people across the United States, the Bureau’s actions match neither its legal obligations nor the federal government’s own admonishments to state and local prisons and jails.”
The latest suit, which the ACLU brought together with the law firm Goodwin Procter, asserts that if DiPierro is denied methadone “she will inevitably suffer and possibly die.” She will undergo extremely painful withdrawal and will be at high risk of relapsing into opioid use during her incarceration or afterward, which could lead to a fatal overdose, according to the suit.
Additionally, DiPierro suffers from bipolar disorder; the loss of methadone “could trigger suicidal ideation and self-harm,” the suit says.
The suit argues that failing to provide medication violates prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment and laws prohibiting discrimination against disabled people.
DiPierro works as a personal care assistant to a woman with cerebral palsy. DiPierro failed to report her employment to the agencies that provide benefits to her, and on Feb. 25 pleaded guilty to several federal offenses related to benefits fraud.
She was sentenced to a year and a day at a federal prison that has not yet been designated. She is scheduled to surrender on April 8.
“The overwhelming medical evidence and consensus — including that of the federal government — supports [medication-assisted treatment] as the standard care for opioid use disorder,” Carol Rose, executive director at the ACLU of Massachusetts, said in a statement. “Yet, federal facilities deny it to the vast majority of incarcerated patients suffering from opioid addiction. ... Public officials should support people in their efforts to overcome opioid addiction, not obstruct them.”