Pubdate: Sun, 12 Aug 2012
Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)
Copyright: 2012 Albuquerque Journal
Author: Mike Gallagher


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,

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."

Getting treatment

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

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.
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