The Maine Department of Corrections has agreed to administer Suboxone, an addiction-treatment medication, to a man who sued to seek treatment while incarcerated, according to a settlement filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Bangor.
In July, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine sued Maine Department of Corrections Commissioner Joseph Fitzpatrick and acting Aroostook County Sheriff Shawn Gillen on behalf of Zachary Smith, 30, of Caribou.
Zachary Smith’s sentencing on an assault charge was delayed until Oct. 11 while the civil suit moved forward, according to the court clerk’s office in Caribou. He has been taking Suboxone for about five years, court documents said. Inmates who are not allowed to continue taking addiction treatment medications are forced into a painful and difficult withdrawal, according to the complaint. Symptoms of withdrawal include vomiting, severe anxiety, sweats, depression and seizures.
“This outcome will spare Zachary Smith from incredibly painful, and potentially deadly, forced withdrawal,” Zachary Heiden, legal director with the ACLU of Maine, said Friday in a press release. “There is no justification for denying doctor-prescribed medication to prisoners with opioid use disorder. Withholding needed treatment actually undermines our chances of keeping people off of opiates.”
Heiden said the Department of Corrections would pay for the medication.
Zachary Smith has said that his family pays $144 a month for his Suboxone, also known as buprenorphine, treatments.
Melissa O’Neal, spokeswoman for the Maine attorney general’s office, declined to comment on the settlement. Assistant Attorney General James Fortin represented Fitzpatrick in the lawsuit.
The complaint alleged Fitzpatrick was violating the Constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment and the Americans with Disabilities Act by denying treatment to prisoners with opioid use disorder.
While the case did not reach a decision on the constitutional and ADA charges, the settlement will make it harder for other corrections facilities to argue that providing medication-assisted treatment to prisoners isn’t possible, according to the ACLU of Maine.
A hearing on a preliminary injunction sought in his case was scheduled to be held next week in Bangor before U.S. District Judge Nancy Torresen. That is expected to be cancelled and the case dismissed.
A motion to stay the action against Gillen was filed Tuesday after it became clear that Smith would be incarcerated in the state prison system and not the county jail. That motion is expected to be granted.
The settlement was not expected to immediately impact a separate case pending against the Aroostook County Jail. Brenda Smith, 34, of Madawaska, who is facing a 40-day sentence for theft, earlier this month sued the jail over access to medication-assisted treatment in federal court in Bangor. Her report date has been delayed while the case is pending.
Peter Mancuso, the Portland attorney representing Brenda Smith, who is not related to Zachary Smith, said Friday that he is unsure how the settlement with the Department of Corrections might affect his client’s case.
Because the judge did not rule on the merits of the case, the settlement won’t impact the Aroostook County Jail, Augusta attorney Peter Marchesi, who represents it and Gillen, said Friday.
Marchesi on Friday filed an answer to Brenda Smith’s complaint that said she was she did not have a legal basis for her claim under the U.S. Constitution or the ADA.
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