The Illinois Department of Corrections is investigating allegations that a man who spent a week in a county jail was denied his prescribed medications for HIV, in what advocacy groups contend is an example of the inadequate HIV-AIDS care common in jails and prisons.
Arick Buckles, 39, of Chicago, said officials at the Bureau County Jail in Princeton told him the drugs cost too much. He said he asked for his medications repeatedly while in jail last fall, as did friends including a minister who contacted the jail on his behalf.
Jail officials told him he couldn't have his own pills brought to him from home because he kept them in a day-by-day organizer, not in their original containers, Buckles said.
His 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 was jailed Sept. 29 on an outstanding warrant for passing bad checks.
Buckles said he experienced diarrhea, fatigue and light-headedness without the drugs.
Bureau County Sheriff John Thompson did not respond to repeated phone and email requests for comment from The Associated Press. Thompson told the Chicago Sun-Times he couldn't comment because he hadn't had time to review the complaint.
An investigation began this week after the Department of Corrections received a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union about Buckles' claims, said department spokeswoman Sharyn Elman. Illinois requires that jails provide medical care, including prescription drugs.
The jail violated Buckles' right to medical treatment and expense is "an inappropriate and unconstitutional reason to deny necessary treatment," according to the ACLU letter.
ACLU attorney John Knight said poor HIV treatment is a common problem in jails and prisons, partly because of the high cost of the drugs. The Illinois ACLU has received similar complaints from HIV-positive former jail detainees in St. Clair and La Salle counties, including from a woman who said her virus count went from undetectable to detectable after a month in jail without medications, Knight said.
Last year, a former inmate sued Cook County claiming he didn't get his HIV drugs while in jail, and 16 federal lawsuits were filed by HIV-positive inmates claiming their treatment was delayed or denied.
Bureau County uses a private company to provide jail medical services, but pays for HIV drugs because of an exclusion in the contract.
Peoria-based Advanced Correctional Healthcare delivers the jail's health services for about $35,000 a year. The company's CEO, Dr. Norman Johnson, said HIV drugs are paid for by the county under the contract's terms. It's common for jail contracts with private operators to exclude high-cost drugs for HIV, multiple sclerosis and cancer, Johnson said.
Johnson said HIV-positive inmates need to stay on their prescribed medications, but downplayed the danger of a delay in treatment, which he acknowledged was a common occurrence in small jails.
"It's not the end of the world and it's not going to suddenly reverse the patient's health," Johnson said. "They're not suddenly going to crash and burn. That doesn't happen."
But an infectious disease specialist from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago said skipping HIV medications for a week can have "devastating consequences for the individual" and make the person more contagious to others "so it's a public health issue."
"When the virus comes back, it's like getting infected all over again," said Dr. Robert Murphy of Northwestern. "All of a sudden it comes back like a tsunami," increasing the risk of complications including heart attack. Missing doses also can lead to drug resistance, so a patient may have to switch to different medications later, Murphy said.
Buckles, a public health outreach worker for HIV and AIDS patients, regularly counsels others on the importance of sticking with their medications.
"I was afraid," he said. "I was of course afraid because I was dealt that hand that I preach against. I didn't know what the outcome would be."
Buckles said he's turned his life around since a period of writing bad checks about seven years ago, when he was newly diagnosed and feeling hopeless. He was clearing an outstanding warrant in another county when the Bureau County warrant came up on the computer and he was transferred there.
It's possible that the cost of the medications may have shortened Buckles' jail stay, Knight said. A nurse's notes mention notifying the state's attorney of the cost, and, after a week in jail, Buckles said a sheriff's deputy came to tell him he was being released because the county couldn't afford to buy his medications.
Knight said he's not ruling out a lawsuit, depending on the jail's response. Buckles said he wants to make sure future jail inmates get better care.
"I'm interested in them correcting what they did wrong," Buckles said.