ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A local drug policy reform group says it will seek a temporary restraining order against the county detention center should the jail continue with its plans to abruptly stop providing methadone to heroin-addicted inmates.
David Schmidt, a lobbyist with the Drug Policy Alliance, told the county’s Public Safety Advisory Board at its Thursday meeting that should the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center not reverse its decision by today, the organization will take legal action to prevent what Schmidt called a “rash and unjust” plan.
“I can see no reason for placing inmates and staff in the such immediate danger they would face with cessation of this program,” Schmidt told the board and MDC Chief Ramon Rustin.
Rustin, who announced the plan Tuesday, said he will meet with attorneys this morning to determine its course of action, if any.
Starting Thursday, all inmates entering MDC were deprived of methadone, even if they were addicted to heroin or dependent on methadone. Current inmates receiving as much as 180 milligrams of the drug will have their dosages cut to zero by the end of the year.
That doesn’t sit well with the former medical director of private contractor Recovery Services, which provided inmates with methadone since 2010, as well as the main analyst for the Drug Policy Task Force, Harris Silver, who called MDC officials’ decision “cruel and unusual punishment.”
MDC officials met with medical staff and Recovery Services personnel Thursday and combed through 87 inmate files, determining who might be at risk of developing medical complications as a result of the withdrawals. Staff determined that no inmate was vulnerable to suffering medical problems should the drugs be removed at the proposed rate, though Rustin said at the Thursday meeting that two elderly, methadone-dependent inmates may need extra care inside or outside the jail.
“I was pretty well assured that with the level of care in the facility… they already know what the issues are,” Rustin told the Journal on Thursday.
Rustin said methadone is a service better suited outside of jail walls, and he said he hasn’t seen a reduction in heroin addiction or drug-related crime as a result of the methadone program in the jail.
Also, Rustin said the lack of methadone can discourage addicts from committing crimes.
“They will be less likely to come to jail, because they’ll have to go through this process again,” Rustin said.
However, Silver, a retired physician, said taking methadone from inmates is a major setback in tackling Bernalillo County’s high rates of drug overdoses and dependence.
“This is absolutely horrible, frankly a public health and public safety crisis,” he said. “This was one of the few really good programs we have for treating these people.”
Silver said withdrawals for already vulnerable inmates can be excruciating and make them more susceptible to heart attacks.
“People are in recovery when they’re on this medicine,” he said. “…This is a chronic disease like any other chronic disease.”
A 2009 study by academic journal “Drug and Alcohol Dependence” surveyed state prison systems around the country about their methadone programs. It found that 28 state prison systems offer methadone in prison, but more than half of those systems gave the drug only to pregnant women.
MDC will also allow pregnant inmates on methadone to receive the drug in order to protect the unborn child.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal