On November 18, 2018 at Massachusetts Alcohol and Substance Abuse Center (MASAC) at Plymouth, an incarcerated person who had been civilly committed for problematic substance use told Julie Inglis-Somers, a nurse, that he was having trouble sleeping because of his required detoxification.
Inglis-Somers, who herself has an opioid use disorder, offered the person one of her orange Suboxone pills that she had been legally prescribed. At the time, MASAC—a facility already being sued for failing to provide adequate treatment to those it commits—was not offering medication-assisted treatment to its civilly-committed patients.
Little did Inglis-Somers know that this patient was acting as an informant for the Department of Corrections in order “to get out of segregation and because he also wants to work on his recovery and Inglis-Somers was hindering his efforts,” according to a December 13, 2018 complaint filed by the United States Attorney for for the District of Massachusetts.
In early December, the informant facilitated a sting operation conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in which Inglis-Somers was promised $1,000 in cash for the already-distributed pills plus a Suboxone strip. According to the complaint, written by an FBI agent, Inglis-Somers sent a text to the person who was supposed to pay her, writing, “You don’t owe me anything I am done. For real, keep what you owe me.” She was arrested and charged with a felony for distribution of Suboxone all the same.
“Can they? Yes. Should they? Absolutely not. That’s absurd, unfair and a waste of everyone’s time and money.”
She provided a total of five doses of buprenorphine to two patients, one of whom was the informant undergoing detoxification. He was not the only person confined to MASAC who desired relief from withdrawal.
Prior to his civil commitment in February 2019, another, 34-year-old man from the Boston metropolitan area “managed his addiction [to opioids] with Suboxone, as prescribed by his doctor,” according to his legal complaint filed by Prisoners’ Legal Services. But he arrived at the facility a few months before the medication became available there—and so was forced to “withdraw from Suboxone cold turkey.” According to his complaint, he experienced “shakes, cold sweats, restless legs, an upset stomach, and insomnia.” He alleges that he was not provided care to support him while he experienced withdrawal symptoms.
Having plead guilty on June 12, 2019 to distribution of buprenorphine, a medication listed in the Controlled Substances Act, Inglis-Somers could potentially face 10 years in prison—the maximum penalty for the offense. But the US Attorney’s Office stated that they recommended time served—meaning Inglis-Somers would not be incarcerated—plus three years of supervised release and asset forfeiture. She will be sentenced on October 24.
It is unclear what property would be seized when Judge Indira Talwani sentences Inglis-Somers, who did not earn any money from the Suboxone distributions. Asset forfeiture cases often involve the seizure of the supplied drugs, yet this case concerns legally-prescribed, albeit illegally distributed, Suboxone.
Seizing this medication would be “highly unusual,” described Leo Beletsky, an associate professor of law and health sciences at Northeastern University School of Law and a member of the Section 35 Commission, which oversees facilities like MASAC. But the FBI, which made the arrest, “can ask for forfeiture of anything they want.”
A spokesperson for the Boston field office of the FBI declined Filter‘s request for comment due to ongoing litigation. Cara McNamara, the public defender representing Inglis-Somers, and the Massachusetts Department of Corrections also declined to comment.
The Department of Corrections only began offering the very medication that the patients received from Inglis-Somers at MASAC Plymouth in April 2019, four months after her arrest. In August 2018, Governor Charlie Baker signed into law an act that expanded access to buprenorphine to MASAC Plymouth, requiring the DOC to establish protocols for the provision of medication-assisted treatment by March 2019.
“Here, the federal government is spending its resources to prosecute something that has since been deemed the right thing to do by both the courts and the Massachusetts legislature and by federal judiciary,” said Beletsky. “Can they do so? Yes. Should they? Absolutely not. That’s absurd, unfair, and is a waste of everyone’s time and money.”
Photograph of Suboxone pills by Soberconnections via Wikimedia Commons