A Tacoma man has filed a federal lawsuit against Pierce County, seeking damages for the alleged withholding of his AIDS medication during a brief stint in the county jail.
AIDS patient Bob Sullivan says that in December 1995 he began taking a combination of medications that included a new type of AIDS-fighting drug known as protease inhibitors.
Doctors say the drugs can dramatically improve the health of AIDS patients, but must be used on a strict regimen. If doses are skipped or the regimen otherwise varied, the virus can mutate and make the drugs ineffective.
Sullivan’s physician, Dr. Stan Flemming, said he couldn’t say for sure that Sullivan had grown resistant to the drug he allegedly missed during his jail stay or that his virus had mutated.
But he confirmed the protease inhibitor had stopped working for Sullivan.
“Was he at risk? The answer would be clearly yes. Because these are drugs that you just don’t monkey around with,” Flemming said.
Sullivan says since his weekend in jail, the amount of AIDS virus in his system shot up more than tenfold and hasn’t dropped significantly.
“There was a glimmer of hope there,” said his wife, Wendy. “But when the drug was interrupted … the glimmer went out.”
Sullivan has had several tests to count the amount of AIDS virus in his system. In February 1996, two months after starting the protease inhibitor, his count was 86,000 copies per milliliter of blood, Flemming said.
Sullivan was jailed March 8-11, 1996.
On March 28, 1996, the count was still 86,000. But by May, Sullivan’s count had risen to 129,933, and by October had shot up to 987,060, Flemming said.
In November, Flemming changed Sullivan to another protease inhibitor. By last Friday, his count was 817,568.
“Having AIDS is like having the flu and a hangover all day, every day, every week, every month,” said Sullivan, a 39-year-old carpenter who believes he contracted the virus in the mid-1980s when he had sex with a woman he thinks was an injection-drug abuser.
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