Reena Szczepanski at (505) 699-0798 or Tommy McDonald at (646) 335-2242
Santa Fe — A bill to create a buprenorphine treatment pilot project at the women’s prison passed the Senate 32-2 last night, sending the medication assisted drug treatment measure to Gov. Bill Richardson’s desk for approval. HB 528, sponsored by Rep. Mimi Stewart (D-Albuquerque) creates a two-year pilot project in the women’s prisons to treat 50 women inmates who have a history of addiction to heroin or other opiates. The House passed the bill last month with a unanimous vote of 66-0.
The pilot project will reduce recidivism rates among women inmates who have a history of opioid addiction by providing buprenorphine, a medication assisted therapy, to women inmates approaching release back into the community. A working group including community treatment providers, community advocates, and representatives of the NM Department of Health and the NM Corrections Department has been meeting for nearly three years to design the innovative program. Women participants would continue to receive treatment for two years following their release, and will regularly meet with a case manager to ensure that treatment is improving their quality of life, reducing recidivism rates, and positively impacting relationships with children and increasing employment.
The Department of Corrections and the Department of Health will be responsible for administering the medication in the prison and linking the women with treatment providers following their release. “Most women in prison are mothers. When children watch their mothers do well and see effective treatment, that’s the best possible investment we can make in families, and in having children believe that we are a compassionate society,” said Angie Vachio, Executive Director Emeritus of PB&J Family Services.
“Treatment not only saves New Mexican taxpayers money, but also makes our communities safer. We are grateful the legislature has chosen to invest in our future,” said Reena Szczepanski, director of the Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico. “We encourage the Governor to follow their lead and sign the bill. New Mexico will be taking the lead by helping women inmates struggling with addiction to break the cycle of incarceration and receive the treatment they need.”
Both national and local New Mexico organizations have endorsed buprenorphine as an effective opiate replacement therapy in treating opioid addicted persons who are incarcerated. National organizations in support include the American Medical Society, the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, and the American College of Physicians. Local organizations supporting the pilot project include the New Mexico Medical Society, NM Nurses Association, NM Public Health Association, NM Women’s Justice Project, and PB&J Family Services.