ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A new lawsuit claims New Mexico’s prison system is denying medically necessary care for inmates with opioid addiction. The lawsuit filed by Disability Rights New Mexico, a nonprofit advocacy group, asks a federal court to step in and require the Corrections Department to provide medication to inmates.

The lawsuit, filed with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), alleges that the Corrections Department outright bans “Medications for Opioid Use Disorder,” an addiction treatment program that provides drugs such as methadone and naltrexone to those addicted to opiates. The idea behind Medications for Opioid Use Disorder is that methadone and the like help relieve withdrawal symptoms with the goal of weaning people off of drugs such as heroin.

Such “Medication-Assisted Treatment” plans are driven by clinical research and the medications used are U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved. Many U.S. public health professionals also back such treatments. But Disability Rights New Mexico claims that the Corrections Department is violating inmates’ civil rights by denying them such treatment.

The lawsuit highlights the experiences of one inmate with a heroin addiction, going by the pseudonym Angelica. Disability Rights New Mexico claims that before sending Angelica to prison, a judge sent Angelica to the Bernalillo County Metro Detention Facility to be slowly weaned off the methadone regimen prescribed by her doctor. But that come-down period only lasted 10 days before Angelica “was forced to withdraw ‘cold turkey'” from the drugs prescribed by her doctor, the lawsuit alleges.

Ultimately by denying her treatment, Disability Rights New Mexico claims the Corrections Department put Angelica “back at square one” in terms of fighting her addiction. And the lawsuit claims Angelica isn’t the only one facing such challenges.

Corrections Department policy shows that the prison system does have procedures in place for providing some level of treatment to inmates with addictions. All inmates are supposed to be screened for drug dependency and, if they need treatment, they are supposed to be “detoxified” under medical supervision at the Correction Department’s medical unit in Los Lunas, or at a community detoxification center/hospital.

That current prison policy is “inadequate,” Davida Gallegos, a spokesperson for ACLU-NM, says. “People should not be taken off their medications and ‘detoxifying’ is not a treatment for OUD [Opiate Use Disorder].”

Carmelina Hart, a spokesperson for the Corrections Department told KRQE News 13 that they’re not able to comment on pending litigation. But they are expanding addiction medication services.

“Currently we work with the University of New Mexico’s Milagro program to support pregnant females who are already on a MAT [Medication-Assisted Treatment] program when they enter our facilities,” Hart said in an email. “In collaboration with the Human Services Department, we were recently awarded a grant for $235,000 by the SAMHSA-Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration which will run through 2023. With these funds we will start a pilot program at the Western New Mexico Correctional Facility in Grants. The pilot should result in the development of a well-informed, responsible, and sustainable system-wide MAT/MOUD program and help to identify necessary community resources.”