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Detention Center distributes overdose treatment; Officials say the kits are not just for inmates, but anyone who wants to protect others

The Chaves County Detention Center has distributed all 40 kits in its initial shipment, says Clay Corn, administrator of the Chaves County Adult and Juvenile Detention Centers. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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Chaves County residents are getting some help when it comes to combating the opioid overdose problem, a public health crisis responsible for the deaths of about 500 people in New Mexico each year.

The Chaves County Detention Center has joined a state pilot program for correctional facilities to provide Narcan to inmates upon their release if they want the opioid overdose treatment and will complete an educational session, regardless if they are opioid users or not. Narcan is the brand name for Naloxone.

“It isn’t just for inmates,” said Clay Corn, administrator of the Chaves County Adult and Juvenile Centers about the kits being distributed. “It is for anyone in the community who wants to protect elderly people in their home or children who might get into the medicine cabinets or pill supplies by accident.”

The opioid addiction and abuse crisis — recently declared a national public health emergency by the Trump Administration — takes about 91 lives each day in the United States, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that the problem of opioid misuse costs the country $55 billion annually, including $20 billion in emergency medical and inpatient treatment costs.

New Mexico had the eighth highest drug overdose death rate in the nation in 2016, according to information presented by the New Mexico Department of Health at a 2016 public meeting. For 2013-2015, the death rate for opioid overdoses alone was almost 25 deaths per 100,000 population. Chaves County’s death rate per 100,000 population due to opioid misuse alone was about 11 in 2013-2015, with prescribed medications representing the largest number of cases.

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Experts say that 60 percent of addiction and misuse problems nationwide occur with prescription painkillers such as codeine, oxycodone, morphine and fentanyl. Only about 30 percent involve heroin or other illegal substances taken alone. The other 10 percent can be attributed to a combination of illegal and legal substances.

As Corn points out, some overdoses occur when people take prescribed medication incorrectly or when children stumble across adult medications by accident.

In 2017, Gov. Susana Martinez signed several pieces of legislation meant to address what is often called an epidemic. House Bill 370 is the law authorizing treatment centers, first responders and detention centers to distribute Narcan.

Corn said Chaves County was the first of seven counties to sign up to participate in the pilot program run by the Office of Substance Abuse Prevention, part of the Behavioral Health Services Division of the New Mexico Human Services Department.

“It has been very successful,” he said of the first weeks of the program. “All of the kits have been taken within two weeks.”

He explained that the detention center received 40 kits, with each kit having two doses of Narcan, in its initial shipment and has requested more.

Corn said he recognizes the need to do something about the growing problem in the area. Of about 270 inmates, 27, or 10 percent, admitted to an addiction issue, while staff estimate that at least another 10 percent probably have the problem but don’t want to admit it. Personally, he said, he is disturbed by an increasing number of pregnant women he has seen with addiction issues.

While the public might think that giving an overdose treatment is enabling drug use or suspected criminals, Corn points out a few facts.

First, the detention center will provide kits — as long as they have a supply of them— to anyone who comes to the detention center. Also, some inmates who take the kits will be doing so to prevent harm to family members, not themselves. Finally, he adds that he thinks the community should help those with addictions.

“They are human beings and part of the community,” said Corn. “We still care about what happens to them.”

He explained that he thinks the program is a “bridge” to reach people who might feel that they have an adversarial relationship with law enforcement or the justice system.

Along with receiving a kit and a prescription for Narcan they can fill themselves, inmates participate in an educational session that teaches them CPR, how to recognize the symptoms of an overdose and how to administer Narcan, which will not have lethal or long-lasting consequences if administered to someone who is not having an opioid overdose.

Corn said the informational session also encourages inmates to stay off drugs.

“The numbers will tell you that an inmate is 12 times more likely to overdose immediately upon release,” Corn said, “and we know why. They haven’t had access to drugs here.”

While Corn said he is pleased with program results so far, there is a problem. The legislation signed by Martinez did not come with sustained funding. The pilot program has a limited pool of money at this point, about $440,000, and a limited number of free kits to distribute, about 5,800. Corn said detention center administrators likely will have to obtain grants or ask their counties for funding to continue the program. The rising cost of Narcan is also a concern, with a single dose costing about $75 now.

While the funding issue remains unknown, the pilot program will allow Chaves and other counties to gather data about the extent of the problem and the effectiveness of Narcan distribution. Corn said a contractor will analyze the data from the Chaves County Detention Center, which possibly could aid in obtaining grants or other state money or in the development of other prevention programs.

Corn also said that he hopes the program can be expanded.

“My plan is to get the program into the juvenile facilities as well,” he said.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.