CHICAGO – A Chicago man filed a federal lawsuit Monday claiming an Illinois jail prevented him from taking his prescribed HIV medications for a week, harming his health and violating his constitutional rights.
Arick Buckles, 40, asked for his medications repeatedly while in the Bureau County jail in Princeton, according to his lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Peoria. His partner offered to bring the pills to the jail, but that request was rebuffed, the lawsuit claims.
The county was more worried about the cost of providing Buckles' HIV drugs than about his health, said American Civil Liberties Union attorney John Knight, who is helping represent Buckles. The drugs, a three-pill combination, cost more than $2,000 a month, according to Buckles' jail medical notes released to him by the county and shared by him with The Associated Press.
Buckles' own pills from home were barred because he kept them in a day-by-day organizer, not in their original containers, he told the AP last year.
Bureau County Sheriff John Thompson, a defendant in the lawsuit, didn't immediately return a phone call seeking comment from The Associated Press. County board chairman Dale Anderson said he couldn't comment because he hadn't seen the lawsuit. The Illinois Department of Corrections looked into the matter last year and found "no violations of the county jail and detention standards," said department spokeswoman Stacey Solano.
The case is an example of the inadequate health care inmates with HIV frequently face, said Knight, who is part of a national AIDS project for the ACLU. Similar complaints have come from Colorado, California, Ohio, Nevada and Missouri, he said.
"The ACLU regularly hears these complaints about jails and prisons," Knight said. HIV drugs are expensive and jail personnel don't always understand how important it is for patients to take them consistently. Bias against people infected with HIV contributes to the problem, Knight said.
Buckles' jail stint in 2010 resulted from an outstanding warrant for passing bad checks. He was clearing another outstanding warrant in another county when the Bureau County warrant came up on the computer and he was transferred there. Buckles has said he's turned his life around since a period of writing bad checks about eight years ago. Clearing up the outstanding warrants was part of that effort.
Knight said he's been waiting a year for a response from Bureau County Sheriff John Thompson to a letter requesting a fix for the problem. The lawsuit "was the only step we had to ensure that this never happens again," Knight said.
The lawsuit claims unspecified damages for Buckles' immediate symptoms — vomiting, weight loss and swollen lymph nodes — and for his mental and emotional distress.
Buckles "feared he would die if he did not adhere to his prescribed HIV treatment plan," the lawsuit states.
Skipping HIV medications can raise a patient's virus count, making the patient more contagious and raising the risk of developing drug resistance. HIV doctors often stress the importance of patients taking their prescribed medications without fail.
Buckles, a public health outreach worker for HIV and AIDS patients, regularly counseled others on the importance of sticking with their medications.
AP Medical Writer Carla K. Johnson can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/CarlaKJohnson