ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Bernalillo County is joining only a handful of jails around the country that allow inmates with opioid addictions to start a methadone program while behind bars.

Recovery Services of New Mexico has been providing medication-assisted treatment with methadone since 2005 for inmates who are already enrolled in a program when they enter the Metropolitan Detention Center, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

Fewer than 30 of the nation’s 5,100 jails and prisons offer opioid users medication-assisted treatment, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance.

Supporters of the program hope it will address a multitude of issues including recidivism, crime rates and community wellness.

The program begins Wednesday, exactly 12 years to the day after the first dose of methadone was given to an inmate at the jail.

The initiative was made possible through a partnership between Recovery Services, the Metropolitan Detention Center and the state Health and Human Services Department. The program also is getting help from the Behavioral Health Initiative and the county’s Addiction Treatment Advisory Board.

Evan Baldwin, CEO of Recovery Services of New Mexico, said plans are to start the pilot project at a slow pace, while Recovery Services identifies any potential obstacles and liabilities. That way, the county, patients, Metropolitan Detention Center staff and anybody else involved are working in an appropriate manner, he said.

“Furthermore, we are reducing the human suffering within the jail because we are avoiding what we deem to be unnecessary withdrawals, when really it’s an opportunity for treatment,” Baldwin said. “There’s no shortage of potential positive benefits.”

A University of New Mexico study conducted in 2013 found that inmates with substance abuse disorders who are treated with methadone are less likely to be re-booked into jail, have longer periods between bookings, are less likely to go back to illicit drug use, and are more likely to continue treatment after release.

Bill Wiese, former co-chair of the Bernalillo County Opioid Accountability Initiative, said these changes can reduce crime rates at a time when Albuquerque is seeing a spike in property crimes like burglary, theft and larceny.

“The majority of that kind of crime is driven by exactly the need to get money to pay for drugs,” Wiese told the Journal.


Information from: Albuquerque Journal, http://www.abqjournal.com