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Drug Program Put On Hold

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When Monica Tellez was released from jail this week, the 38-year-old mother of two was eager to enter an addiction-treatment program offered by a state public health office in Albuquerque.

But Tellez was disappointed to learn that a Suboxone program at the Stanford Public Health Office, which targets jail inmates addicted to heroin, stopped accepting new patients on July 1.

The problem? The program’s coordinator, who was hired in May and slated to start work July 1, the start of the state’s fiscal year, still hadn’t received a contract from the New Mexico Department of Health.

“It has been frustrating,” Tellez said Friday outside the Central New Mexico Treatment Center, where she receives a low dose of methadone each day while she seeks enrollment in another Suboxone program. Tellez was released Tuesday from the Bernalillo County jail and is scheduled for trial Aug. 15 on a felony drug possession charge.

“I don’t want to be addicted to anything,” said Tellez, who first began using heroin about two years ago. “It has been a continuous runaround just to try to come clean.”

Suboxone is a brand-name drug used to treat people addicted to heroin and other opiates. Suboxone blocks the agonizing withdrawal symptoms that discourage addicts from kicking a drug habit.

Dr. Sandra Penn, one of two physicians at the Stanford Public Health Office, said the clinic stopped accepting new patients after the former Suboxone coordinator left when her contract expired June 30.

Bernie Lieving, a former harm reduction program manager for the state Department of Health, was scheduled to fill the post July 1. But Lieving’s contract has remained unsigned, leaving the post unfilled, she said Friday.

Penn said she has received no word from the department about the status of the contract. Lieving could not be reached for comment this week.

The Stanford clinic operates the state’s only Suboxone program targeting jail inmates, Penn said. The program is intended to prevent inmates from returning to heroin use by providing them with Suboxone prescriptions before their release from jail. The program enrolled 10 to 20 new inmates a week, she estimated.

Health Secretary Catherine Torres said this week that she and her staff  were working through hundreds of contracts and planned to have them signed and returned to contractors soon.

The department completed negotiations with contractors in May, Torres said. “Everyone that was presented a contract will be signed,” she said.

Torres said she is the only department official authorized to sign contracts because two deputy secretary posts remain unfilled. The agency is in the process of filling both posts, she said.

Jim Green, administrative services director, said Lieving’s contract posed difficulties because he had previously worked for the department. That means a form must be completed changing his status from a state employee to a contractor.

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