New Mexico Prison Program Finally Rolls Out

prison addiction programs

Albuquerque’s Metropolitan Detention Center has broken new ground with its treatment initiative

By Jason Langendorf

A long-delayed treatment program at a New Mexico prison was launched last week, ensuring that incarcerated people who were receiving medication for opioid use disorder (OUD) outside the facility will continue to have access to it while serving their sentences.

Albuquerque’s Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) will provide buprenorphine to people in the prison who had been following a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program for OUD before arriving at the facility. After signing a contract with Recovery Services of New Mexico at the end of 2020, the MDC announced the launch of the initiative last week.

As priorities around substance use disorder increasingly shift from punitive to public health actions, we’re likely to see more initiatives like the MDC’s buprenorphine program embraced.”

“Individuals incarcerated at MDC are primarily part of our most vulnerable populations and are experiencing a high need for substance use supports, and although [they are] incarcerated, we have an obligation to offer behavioral health supports to all community members,” Bernalillo County manager Julie Morgas Baca said in a statement announcing the rollout of the program. “This collaborative approach between our detention facility and community-based providers ensures that we are maximizing resources and effectively supporting the community.”

According to the Albuquerque Journal, Bernalillo County signed a two-year contract to pay Recovery Services of New Mexico $312,400 for buprenorphine medication and almost $250,000 for services. The taxpayer-funded buprenorphine maintenance program will reportedly provide an average of 22 incarcerated individuals per day with the medication that is considered the gold standard in OUD treatment.

The MDC and BayMark Health Services—the parent company of Recovery Services of New Mexico—had reportedly hoped to launch the buprenorphine initiative sooner (as early as April), but, according to officials, staffing issues and the pandemic caused delays.

Addiction Treatment in Prison

MDC is the only jail in New Mexico, according to the Albuquerque Journal, that will start patients on a buprenorphine treatment program. MAT programs in prisons are a hot-button issue for those who believe “addicts” shouldn’t be provided any drugs on the taxpayers’ dime—which is why they are few and far between. But the facts are persuasive: Buprenorphine has proved to be effective in helping people with OUD, and MAT programs for prison populations have had positive outcomes.

Well over half of the estimated 2.3 million incarcerated people in the U.S. met the DSM-IV criteria for drug dependence or abuse for any drug, according to a 2017 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. As priorities around substance use disorder increasingly shift from punitive to public health actions, we’re likely to see more initiatives like the MDC’s buprenorphine program embraced.

Photo: Matthew Ansley

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