Group threatens legal action over MDC Methadone Program

Posted at: 11/29/2012 10:08 PM
Updated at: 11/29/2012 10:12 PM
By: Joe Vigil, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Metropolitan Detention Center Chief Ramon Rustin said that providing methadone in jail is not working.

He said Thursday that he believes many who get methadone re-offend and wind up right back in jail. And he said as of Dec. 31st prisoners will not get it.

But that won't happen without a fight.

There is concern that people will end up in the jail's detoxification unit and suffer severe withdrawal symptoms without the methadone they're used to.

"I am charged with protecting the safety of everybody in that institution," Rustin told attendees of the county's Public Safety Board meeting Thursday. "And I have been assured through my medical experts and my psychiatrists that we'll be fine. But again the program has value in the community but not in the jail."

Rustin said no other jail in the state provides methadone and says people who get it aren't the only ones who face withdrawal symptoms.

 "Why don't I take care of alcoholics? Why don't I put a bar in the institution so that they can continue drinking while they're in jail," Rustin said. "Medical marijuana - am I going to have to provide medical marijuana to every inmate in there that wants a prescription?  I have to challenge the public to say how far are we going to fix society's problems in a jail." Rustin reminded people that the detention center is a jail. "It's not a hospital," he said. "It's not a residential treatment center. It is a jail."

A retired surgeon and admitted recovering prescription drug addict spoke out about ending the program.

"A medical decision was made by a non medical person to take away a life saving drug which is actually a very well known and well accepted and well proven treatment for opiod addiction," he said.

David Schmidt of the Drug Policy Alliance of New Mexico said corrections officers could be assaulted by inmates who act out violently while withdrawing and says inmate health is a huge issue.

"Sudden withdrawal from methadone can cause a lot of physical problems and death," he said.

The Drug Policy Alliance said it will file a temporary restraining order against the jail to keep the program going if the jail does not respond to the group regarding the policy change by Friday.