The Federal Bureau of Prisons has agreed to provide methadone to an inmate throughout her incarceration, in a settlement that the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts called the first of its kind.
The ACLU, which sued on behalf of the inmate in March, said it believes the agreement marks the first time an inmate who is not pregnant will receive methadone for addiction treatment while held in a federal prison.
The agreement with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, reached June 5, concerns Stephanie DiPierro of Everett, who has used methadone prescribed by her doctor to control her opioid use disorder for about a decade. DiPierro pleaded guilty to federal offenses related to benefits fraud; she was scheduled to start her yearlong sentence at the federal prison in Danbury, Conn., on Tuesday.
Federal prisons prohibit medication-assisted treatment for addicted inmates, except those who are pregnant. The ACLU’s suit argued that policy violated the Constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment as well as laws banning discrimination against disabled people.
Without her prescribed methadone, the suit asserted, DiPierro would undergo painful withdrawal and face a high risk of relapsing into opioid use during or after incarceration.
“This resolution affirms one basic principle: People suffering from substance use disorder deserve just treatment,” Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said in a statement. “Medication for addiction treatment is the standard of care for opioid use disorder. The evidence is clear: [Medication] saves lives. Jails and prisons throughout the country should do all they can to support people in their efforts to overcome opioid use disorder, not obstruct them.”
The ACLU had previously achieved victories at the state level in its efforts to ensure that the medications that treat addiction are provided behind bars.
In November 2018, a federal judge required Essex County correctional authorities to provide methadone to a Massachusetts man, and last month, a federal appeals court in Boston required the Aroostook County Jail in Maine to provide buprenorphine (best known by the trade name Suboxone) to an inmate.