May 25, 2021

Incarcerated woman challenges New Mexico Corrections Department’s methadone policy

An incarcerated woman in New Mexico filed suit last month against the state Department of Corrections after officials allegedly discontinued her prescription for methadone.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico filed an emergency injunctive relief on Monday in federal court for a plaintiff known as “S.B.” who suffers from opioid use disorder. She relies on doctor-prescribed methadone as part of her active recovery from heroin addiction, according to the complaint. The NMDC bans the use of methadone and other Federal Drug Administration approved medications for addiction treatment (MAT) for most prisoners, according to the complaint.

Eric Harrison, public information officer for NMDC, said the department could not comment on active litigation and said that S.B. is not in NMDC custody.

At the request of her attorney, S.B. is currently incarcerated at Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center for the sole purpose of allowing her to taper off of methadone, according to the complaint. If the woman had not transferred to the county facility  she would have had to endure more severe withdrawal symptoms from methadone at the New Mexico Corrections Department, which does not provide the drug except for pregnant or nursing women, the complaint states. S.B. is expected to be transferred to the NMCD in June.

While she is under involuntary withdrawal, she suffers from chaotic thinking, hurting bones, extreme anxiety, self-harm impulses and is craving opioids, according to the complaint.

She is afraid that without her prescription dose of methadone, she will relapse, overdose and die, the compliant states.

S.B.’s legal counsel is suing for emergency, preliminary and injunctive relief so that she can resume her daily prescription of methadone.

Denying her necessary medical care violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and her right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth amendment, the complaint alleges.

S.B. said in a statement that she is scared of the outcome if she cannot resume methadone.

“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. I’m afraid the cravings will be too big, and I will relapse, and could overdose, and die,” she said.

According to the complaint, S.B. overdosed 13 times during her 20-year long addiction.

Kate Loewe, an attorney with the ACLU of New Mexico, called the NMCD policy of refusing methadone to incarcerated individuals “cruel, discriminatory and dangerous.”

“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,” Loewe said in a statement.