Methadone Program Could Help Inmates
By Leann Holt
Journal Staff Writer
The new methadone maintenance program at the Metropolitan Detention Center may affect Albuquerque residents more than they realize.
The program – one of five in the nation – will provide methadone to former heroin users while they’re in jail, decreasing the possibility that they will return to heroin when they get out.
Fewer heroin users means safer communities, said former U.S. drug czar Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who led a news conference at the detention center Monday announcing the program.
“(Methadone) is not a cure, but a way to take a population of roughly 1 million (users) that does incredible damage to the community and reduce that damage significantly,” McCaffrey said.
McCaffrey said people who take methadone reduce their heroin use by 70 percent, have 57 percent less criminal activity and are 24 percent more likely to be employed.
The MDC program, which began in November, will cost $2 million (paper corrected to $200,000 next day) and will be funded through the state’s Department of Health, said department Secretary Michelle Lujan Grisham on Monday. An estimated 280 inmates will receive methadone this year, she said. Inmates must have had a dose of the methadone within the previous 14 days to qualify and cannot be going to prison in order to be enrolled in the program.
Valerie Chavez, an inmate at the detention center, told a group assembled for the news conference how devastating it can be to go to jail and abruptly be cut off from methadone treatment.
The 27-year-old heroin addict was on methadone and getting her life together, she said. Methadone kept her from craving heroin, allowing her to move her three daughters from a homeless shelter to permanent housing and begin counseling.
An old arrest warrant caught up with her a few months ago, landing her in jail in Santa Fe. With no methadone available, she had severe withdrawal symptoms. Federal research has shown that methadone withdrawal can be more severe than heroin withdrawal.
When Chavez was released, she immediately went back to heroin because it was easier to get than methadone.
“You suffer when you detox without methadone,” said Barry Karlin, chairman of the CRC Health Group, which will run the detention center program.
“They get out (of jail) and get drugs because they feel so horrible.”
Imperial said she has been on methadone for 3 years. The 46-year-old said she was back in jail on an old charge and will be released shortly.
“Methadone is the only thing that’s kept me from relapsing,” she said. “I was glad to come here and find out they were giving it. I’m going to stay on it.”