New Mexico’s HSD proposes medication-assisted treatment for incarcerated people

By: - December 19, 2022 4:35 am

Getting people signed up for Medicaid before release from prison or jail, and ensuring they have access to medication afterward could help reduce the harms of criminalizing substance use disorder, according to the Drug Policy Alliance.

Beginning in 2024, New Mexico’s Medicaid program could start providing medication-assisted treatment to incarcerated people 30 days before they are released, along with a 30-day supply of medication when they leave.

In a 275-page application to the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services by the New Mexico Human Services Department published Friday, HSD says it hopes to ensure formerly incarcerated people stay on their medication after release, don’t commit more crime, end up in an emergency room or become unhoused.

It would be “a critical step to addressing the harms of substance use, but also the harms of criminalization for people who are experiencing substance use disorder,” said Emily Kaltenbach, senior director of criminal legal and policing reform at the Drug Policy Alliance.

At any given time in New Mexico, more than 14,000 people are held in state, local or youth correctional facilities, HSD wrote, and nearly 50,000 people churn through local jails here each year.

New Mexico’s prison system forces people on medication for opioid use disorder to withdraw from it when they enter prison, with the exception of pregnant people, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday by ACLU-NM and Disability Rights New Mexico.

The lawsuit cites research showing that someone leaving incarceration is nearly 13 times more likely than the general population to die of an overdose in the first two weeks after their release.

HSD wants to get people held in jail before a trial or imprisoned post-conviction on Medicaid so they can get medication-assisted treatment while inside state prisons, local jails, youth correctional facilities, tribal holding facilities, tribal jails and the New Mexico Behavioral Health Institute in Las Vegas.

The department plans to focus on incarcerated people with serious mental health conditions, severe emotional disturbance, substance use disorder, or an intellectual or developmental disability. It estimates 7,500 people per year could benefit.


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Austin Fisher
Austin Fisher

Austin Fisher is a journalist based in Santa Fe. He has worked for newspapers in New Mexico and his home state of Kansas, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Garden City Telegram, the Rio Grande SUN and the Santa Fe Reporter. Since starting a full-time career in reporting in 2015, he’s aimed to use journalism to lift up voices that typically go unheard in public debates around economic inequality, policing and environmental racism.