ALBUQUERQUE, NM— A woman diagnosed with severe opioid use disorder (OUD) will experience painful and life-threatening consequences if the New Mexico Corrections Department (NMCD) denies her access to her medically necessary, physician-prescribed methadone while she is incarcerated. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico and the Law Office of Ryan J. Villa today filed an emergency motion in a lawsuit against Corrections Secretary Alisha Tafoya Lucero and NMCD Health Services Administrator Wenscelaus Asonganyi, on behalf of their client, S.B., to ensure that she is provided her prescribed medication for addiction treatment when she is transferred from the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) to NMCD.
“Every day my dose drops, I am more and more scared that if NMCD does not continue me on methadone during my time there, I will not be able to control my addiction,” said S.B. in response to being involuntarily tapered off of her essential medication. “I’m afraid the cravings will be too big, and I will relapse, and could overdose, and die.”
Opioid use disorder is a chronic medical condition that, like other chronic diseases such as high blood pressure or diabetes, can be successfully treated with medication. Medication for addiction treatment (MAT) is the medical standard of care for OUD. Without access to their doctor-prescribed medication, people with opioid use disorder suffer painful withdrawal and face an increased risk of relapse, overdose, and death—effects that are exacerbated for individuals recovering from opioid use disorder in jail and prison.
Despite scientific consensus that MAT is the standard of care for opioid use disorder, NMCD denies MAT to those detained with the exception of pregnant and breastfeeding people. The motion filed today challenges NMCD’s policy of prohibiting MAT as a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment and as unlawful discrimination on the basis of disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“New Mexico Corrections Department’s policy of denying life-saving essential medication to people in custody is cruel, discriminatory, and dangerous,” said ACLU of New Mexico cooperating attorney Kate Loewe. “Opioid overdose deaths in New Mexico continue to rise and untreated OUD contributes to NMCD’s recidivism rate. NMCD has a constitutional, legal, and moral duty to provide adequate medical care to our client.”
As of 2019, one-half of the recidivism rate was attributed to parole revocations for technical violations related to drug use and about one-third of the people admitted to prisons supervised by the corrections department were the result of failed drug tests and missed appointments.
S.B. wants to break the cycle of addiction and incarceration and needs NMCD to provide her with continued access to her essential medication to help her do so.
A copy of the complaint and motion for preliminary injunction can be found below.