Delivery alert

There may be an issue with the delivery of your newspaper. This alert will expire at NaN. Click here for more info.

Recover password

Addiction treatment hard to come by in NM

Niki Costales, center, a substance abuse technician gives instructions to a group of people who have just been released from jail and transported to the Resource Re-Entry Center in Downtown Albuquerque. The center helps connect people with needed services, as well as simple niceties, such as sandwiches and phone charging stations. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

First, there’s detoxification, an ugly process, no matter what substance is at the heart of the problem.

According to Dr. Valerie Carrejo, program director for the University of New Mexico’s Addiction Medicine Fellowship, patients quitting meth generally sleep for an excessive amount of time and may feel depressed because their serotonin is depleted.

“People that have long-term, and kind of chronic methamphetamine use permanently change their brain chemistry, and so it’s really hard for them to feel normal again,” Carrejo said.

Other stimulants such as cocaine and Adderall share similar withdrawal symptoms, including three to five days of “complete sedation and lack of motivation.”

For those hoping to move past their substance use, the fight is often an uphill battle.

In Dr. Valerie Carrejo’s opinion, the hardest part of kicking an addiction is finding a place to get treatment.

Without the help of medication, people experiencing opioid withdrawal often feel like they have a “massive flu,” she said. And those who try to quit on their own frequently start again as symptoms set in.

“It’s just too miserable to go through the detox,” said Carrejo, program director for the University of New Mexico’s Addiction Medicine Fellowship. “So most of them will end up restarting their opioid.”

Raymond Fuentes, a community health worker, speaks with a client at the Resource Re-Entry Center in Downtown Albuquerque. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

For those lucky enough to find an appropriate treatment option, regardless of what substance is at the center of their addiction, it can take weeks to get in.

That means “weeks of dangerous risk of overdose and death,” Carrejo said.

And if you get in and make your way through, there’s no guarantee sobriety will stick. American Addiction Centers estimates that four to six out of 10 people who manage to kick their drug habit will relapse.

“Folks can’t just get onto treatment and then their whole life changes,” Carrejo said. “Most people have issues with employment and housing and food, and then their friends are also using. So to get away from the environment that’s fostering the addiction is really tough.”

In New Mexico, in particular, many families use together, and trying to get sober while living with an active user is a challenge.

Dr. Bill Wiese, a retired physician who is chairman of Bernalillo County’s Addiction Treatment Advisory Board, says people should be invited back into treatment and given another chance.

Wiese says New Mexico does not have sufficient services to offer treatment to all the people who need it. But there is reason for hope, even if improvements are slow-moving.

“For impatient people like me, it’s not emerging fast enough,” Wiese said. “I think we have people dying because of that lack of capacity.”

There has been genuine progress in recent years in increasing the availability of drugs such as methadone and Suboxone, and a growing number of providers are prescribing them. Public awareness of the problem has also increased, Wiese said, and while there’s still stigma surrounding drug use, it has lessened.

He noted that there was a time when doctors simply didn’t accept patients struggling with addiction, something he doesn’t believe happens anymore.

The reality that New Mexico has been dealing with the problem longer than other states means “we have been out in front” in terms of offering things like harm reduction and treatment services. Still, the services that are available don’t entirely meet the need, and there are barriers to access, Wiese said.

“In general terms … I think relative to other states, we are in pretty good shape in terms of our capacity,” he said. “Relative to our need, we have a huge way to go.”


Among the organizations providing services and support to those struggling with addiction:
• New Mexico Crisis and Access Line, help combating substance abuse: 855-662-7474
• Metropolitan Assessment and Treatment detox service: 505-468-1555
• Supportive Aftercare Program: 505-468-1569
• Narcotics Anonymous: 800-798-6649
• University of New Mexico Addiction and Substance Abuse Program: 505-994-7999
• ABQ Health Services, Methadone and Suboxone treatment: 505-260-9917
• Central New Mexico Treatment Center: 877-284-7074
• A New Awakening Counseling: 505-224-9124
• Department of Health Turquoise Lodge Hospital: 505-841-8978

For the full project:

7 2 h o u r s by Albuquerque Journal.

Subscribe now! Albuquerque Journal limited-time offer

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email or Contact the writer.