ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — When the Heroin Awareness Committee looked around at what it could do to spare other parents and teens the pain of addiction and death, it would have been easy to get overwhelmed.
“There were a lot of needs,” Jennifer Weiss, one of the founders, said.
Education was a glaring deficiency. Getting the state Legislature’s attention was another.
Weiss and the other parents forming the committee have children either lost to drug overdoses or who in recovery. Like the parents in Mothers Against Drunk Driving, they have political credibility. Politicians of both parties listen.
Whether they have the long-term staying power of MADD remains to be seen, but a long-term goal they have decided to address is the lack of drug addiction treatment programs for teens.
“The resources simply are not adequate,” Weiss said. “Inpatient beds are limited in New Mexico and out-of-state care is expensive. Thirty to forty thousand dollars for a 30-day stay is out of reach.”
The New Mexico Drug Policy Task Force, with members appointed by legislators and Gov. Susana Martinez, found:
♦ New Mexico ranks No. 1 in the nation, “by far,” for unmet treatment needs for illicit and prescription drug abuse for the 12 to 17 age group.
♦ The state and municipalities have substantially reduced funding for prevention programs.
♦ There are not enough trained professionals to staff rehabilitation facilities that are needed but don’t exist.
♦ Inpatient addiction treatment is out of reach of many families because major insurers and Medicaid don’t pay for residential treatment.
“We are developing a plan for an adolescent treatment center,” Weiss said. “It will be presented to Gov. Martinez and Albuquerque Mayor (Richard) Berry.”
The goal, and it may be a long-term one, is to create a “comprehensive system” of care for teen drug addicts, she said.
“It is much harder for adults to get clean,” Weiss said. “It makes sense to attack the problem at an earlier age.”
One of the ironies in this equation is that it is easier to get drug treatment once you’ve been arrested.
That conclusion didn’t come from some activist for legalizing drugs. It came from the head of the overcrowded Metropolitan Detention Center, Director Ramon Rustin.
“We’re back-end loaded,” Rustin said. “You enter the criminal justice system, and you receive treatment, but the arrest record can make staying clean that much harder.
“It is harder to get a job. Harder to find an apartment,” he said. “A lot of places won’t rent to a person with a drug arrest.”
“We can detox a heroin addict in two weeks,” Rustin said. “They get out sober but with no job and no place to live. What they have is the drug.”
There are 300 to 400 inmates each month who enter the drug and alcohol detox programs in the jail.
“That’s a significant number, and only those with the most extreme addiction go into the programs,” he said.
Rustin’s boss, Deputy County Manager Tom Swisstack, said it may not be a question of spending more money, but rearranging how and where money is spent.
“If you move resources to the front end of the criminal justice system, literally the booking desk, we may be able to divert people into programs they need,” Swisstack said.