Timothy York has successfully used Suboxone, a drug that effectively suppresses urges, to cure his decades-long opiate addiction.
York has been housed in a string of facilities since entering federal prison in 2008, all of which are rife with violence and narcotics trafficking. He said he had spent tens of thousands of dollars purchasing the drug illegally from inmate drug traffickers because Suboxone helps him think and communicate coherently. But he hasn’t been able to regularly get it.
He was relieved to find that the federal Bureau of Prisons was launching a program in 2019 to increase access to Suboxone, and the year after that, according to his medical records, a pharmacist at the federal prison in Sumterville, Florida, told him that he was “priority #1” for treatment.
While he waits, he’s being penalized for utilizing Suboxone without a prescription. According to his disciplinary log, York, 46, had his visitor rights suspended for a year after being found in possession of the drug last year. He also spent a month in solitary confinement. For four months, he was unable to access his email and phone. He also missed the opportunity to get out of jail more than a month early.
Timothy York is not alone. More than 20 federal inmates who were battling addictions were interviewed by The Marshall Project, and they spoke about the severe repercussions of not being able to securely obtain the therapy that Congress has mandated prisons provide.
Some people overdosed. According to numerous prisoners, many have engaged in risky and illegal money-making activities to pay for Suboxone, which costs around $20 for a small portion of a daily dose on the black market. Many have been placed in solitary confinement or lost access to phones or visitors, like York, after being discovered taking the drug. Using Suboxone without a prescription resulted in more than 500 people receiving punishment from the Bureau of Prisons last year, according to information The Marshall Project was able to receive from the organization through a public documents request.
A bureau administrator familiar with the organization’s addiction treatment programs said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they are not permitted to speak to the media, “Believe me, 100% I realize the irony there.” It’s frustrating.
The First Step Act, which was passed by Congress four years ago, stipulated that the Bureau of Prisons must provide more offenders with addiction drugs, the most popular of which is Suboxone. The drugs can lessen the danger of relapse and overdose while quelling opiate cravings.
However, the agency estimates that just a small portion—less than 10%—of the approximately 15,000 offenders who require treatment are receiving it in federal prisons.
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