The Sunday Journal
When the HeroinAwareness Committeelooked around at what itcould do to spare otherparents and teens the painof addiction and death, itwould have been easy to getoverwhelmed.“There were a lot of needs,” Jennifer Weiss, oneof the founders, said.Education was a glaringdeficiency. Getting the stateLegislature’s attention wasanother.Weiss andthe otherparentsforming thecommitteehavechildreneither lostto drugoverdosesor who inrecovery.Like theparents inMothersAgainstDrunkDriving, they have politicalcredibility. Politicians of both parties listen.Whether they have thelong-term staying power of MADD remains to be seen,but a long-term goal theyhave decided to address isthe lack of drug addictiontreatment programs forteens.“The resources simply arenot adequate,” Weiss said.“Inpatient beds are limitedin New Mexico and out-of-state care is expensive.Thirty to forty thousanddollars for a 30-day stay isout of reach.”The New Mexico DrugPolicy Task Force, withmembers appointed bylegislators and Gov. SusanaMartinez, found:
New Mexico ranksNo. 1 in the nation, “by far,”for unmet treatment needsfor illicit and prescriptiondrug abuse for the 12 to 17age group.
The state andmunicipalities havesubstantially reducedfunding for preventionprograms.
There are not enoughtrained professionals tostaff rehabilitation facilitiesthat are needed but don’texist.
Inpatient addictiontreatment is out of reachof many families becausemajor insurers andMedicaid don’t pay forresidential treatment.“We are developing a planfor an adolescent treatmentcenter,” Weiss said. “Itwill be presented to Gov.Martinez and AlbuquerqueMayor (Richard) Berry.”The goal, and it may be along-term one, is to create a“comprehensive system” of care for teen drug addicts,she said.“It is much harder foradults to get clean,” Weisssaid. “It makes sense toattack the problem at anearlier age.”
One of the ironies in thisequation is that it is easierto get drug treatment onceyou’ve been arrested.That conclusion didn’tcome from some activistfor legalizing drugs. Itcame from the head of theovercrowded MetropolitanDetention Center, DirectorRamon Rustin.“We’re back-end loaded,”Rustin said. “You enter thecriminal justice system,and you receive treatment,but the arrest record canmake staying clean thatmuch harder.“It is harder to get a job. Harder to find anapartment,” he said. “A lotof places won’t rent to aperson with a drug arrest.”“We can detox a heroinaddict in two weeks,”Rustin said. “They get outsober but with no job andno place to live. What theyhave is the drug.”There are 300 to 400inmates each month whoenter the drug and alcoholdetox programs in the jail.“That’s a significantnumber, and only thosewith the most extremeaddiction go into theprograms,” he said.Rustin’s boss, DeputyCounty Manager TomSwisstack, said it maynot be a question of spending more money, butrearranging how and wheremoney is spent.“If you move resources tothe front end of the criminal justice system, literallythe booking desk, we maybe able to divert peopleinto programs they need,”Swisstack said.
— Mike Gallagher
Treatment ForTeens Lacking
More than half of the New Mexico inmates in state prisonsand local jails are arrested for drug-related crimes.*
* Department of Justice statistics
His friends call him “Gio,” and so will we.He has a lot of weight to carry, and havinghis name in the newspaper would only add tothat weight.Gio, 15, has two early memories.“I was about 5. We lived in an apartmentnear the State Fairgrounds, I was trying toget into the apartment and couldn’t open thedoor,” he said.He remembers running to the apartment of a neighbor, who came to his aid and helpedopen the door. They found Gio’s motherpassed out from using heroin.Another time, when he was a little older,he and his younger brother were playing inthe median of a busy street near East Centrallate at night. His mother was at an apartmenthigh on heroin.He remembers the back of the police car.His mother was in the back of another policecar.Then, there is the memory of coming homewhen he was 11 and finding his mother deadof a heroin overdose.He called the ambulance.“Heroin is really bad stuff,” Gio said in aninterview at the YDI Inc. Gang InterventionProgram. Present were program directorJudy Pacheco, a counselor and hisgrandmother.Gio’s grandmother said, “I did what I could.Took her to rehab. Took her to the emergencyrooms. Sometimes she went to jail, and thedealers were waiting for her, knocking on herdoor, when she got out.“They should charge heroin dealers withmurder; they’re killing kids,” she said.Gio looked at her and said, “The kids killthemselves.”He came to YDI because it had a hip-hopstage and recording program. He likes tosing and has a part in a recorded hip-hoperacalled “Chasing Nowhere.”“I wanted to perform,” he said. “I found outabout it from a friend.”He’s one of more than 350 kids YDI’s GangIntervention program reaches each year.About 25 percent are referred by the JuvenileCourt, but most are walk-ins like Gio.Getting kids moving in a positive direction,instead of a self-destructive one, is the goal,said Rusty Rutherford, an interventionspecialist.“It doesn’t matter what side of town you’refrom — preppy white kids from the Heightsor gang members from the Valley,” he said.“We all have differences, and we all haveproblems.”
By any definition, Gio is an “at-risk” teen.School, to say the least, hasn’t been easy.But his grades are getting better.He was wearing an ankle bracelet monitorat the time of the interview, because of somerecent unstated trouble with the law.“Its pretty easy to get into trouble,” Giosaid. “You don’t have to go looking for it. It just happens.”But if you think he’s unique, take a look ata series of maps prepared by the Universityof New Mexico Center for Education PolicyResearch called Mapping The Landscape.Peter Winograd, the center’s head, saysit paints a bleak portrait of the state’seducational system and the future for manyNew Mexico kids:
Truancy rates for many schools areover 30 percent. Students with more than 10absences are considered truant.
Dropout rates of more than 30 percent.
Drug use two or three times the nationalaverage.
Poverty rates in some areas above 30percent.Leaf through it, and the statistics getmore depressing with each page, somethingWinograd freely admits.“It is a difficult picture to look at,”Winograd said. “But you have to understandthe extent of the problem before you canmove forward.”Solutions may not lie in spending moremoney, but in how to use the money available,Winograd said.“You need to start the discussionsomewhere,” he said.But he said he isn’t a defeatist.“In my lifetime, the Berlin Wall wastorn down and segregation was broken,”Winograd said. “Those were significantachievements. This lays out anotherchallenge.”
— Mike Gallagher
For At-Risk Teenager, It’s‘Easy To Get Into Trouble’
When she and her friendsstarted snorting “chiva” inhigh school, Alma Cortessays they told themselvesthey weren’t doing heroin.“It was OK — we weren’tsticking a needle in ourarms,” she said in a recentinterview. “We were naivethat way.”That was 17 years ago inGrapevine, Texas, and heroinwas the drug of choice at herhigh school.“The first time I used, Ithrew up, got sick all thenext day,” Cortes said. “Butthe high was so intense, Ikept using it. The stuff wasso pure, there were a lot of ODs.”Since then, it has been17 years of using heroin,kicking her addiction andusing heroin again. Shefigures she’s kicked her habit10 times and fallen back intothe habit 11 times.“I’d be clean for years andthink, ‘I can get high justthis once’, but you don’t, youlike it too much,” she says. “Iwould stop and start. Eachtime, it was harder to stop.”Now she’s 6
monthspregnant.“I’ve taken college biologyclasses. I know what happensto the babies of addicts. Ididn’t want that to happen. Itried never to get pregnant.”But about five monthsago she realized she waspregnant.“I started to try and kickon my own. Not use for threeor four days, or just enoughto keep from getting sick.“I knew what it was goingto do to a baby. I didn’t wantto have a baby in addiction.”Living in Roswell, she hadto travel to Carlsbad to see adoctor who was approved touse Suboxone, a drug usedto help addicts stop usingheroin.“This is how crazyaddiction is,” Cortes said.“You know that you can’tget high from heroin whenyou take Suboxen, but guesswhat, I had to try it. Triedit twice. Didn’t work. Howcrazy is that?”Because she had “dirty”urine tests, her doctor saidhe couldn’t keep treating her.“He was very frustratedwith me,” she said.Two months ago, shedecided to seek out aninpatient program, and hermother took her to UNMHospital, where she wasexamined and evaluated.She’s now at the Milagroprogram for pregnant addictsrun by Bernalillo County’sDepartment of SubstanceAbuse Programs, the stateDepartment of Healthand the University of NewMexico.There are eight beds,and mothers of newbornsare allowed to stay in thefurnished apartments.She’s on Methadone, butthe doctors tell her theyknow how to deal with babiesborn addicted to methadone.“It wasn’t just luck to getin here; it was a miracle.I’m getting counseling. I’mgetting the checkups. I’m ina safe place,” she said. “NowI’ve got to commit to beingclean for my baby boy.”She hasn’t decided on thebaby’s name yet.
— Mike Gallagher
Heroin’s HighWas Too Hard To Resist
A pregnant Alma Cortes, 34, talks about being a heroin addict and expectant mother at Metropolitan Assessment and Treat-ment Services, where she is enrolled in the Milagro program for pregnant addicts.WEISS:Foundingmember of the HeroinAwarenessCommittee
Fifteen-year-old Gio, who lost his mother to a heroin overdose, works on his hip-hop singing atYouth Development Inc.’s Gang Intervention Program.
But expectant momsays she’s committed to kicking the habit
Parents group focuses on the lack of programs for youths
YDI’s Rusty Rutherford leads a rap session withteens as part of the nonprofit’s gang interven-tion outreach program.