89.9 FM Live From The University Of New Mexico
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Santa Fe center to boost opioid treatment options in McKinley County

Packets of buprenorphine, a drug which controls heroin and opioid cravings and reduces overdoses.
Elise Amendola
Packets of buprenorphine, a drug which can be used as part of medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder to control cravings and reduce overdoses.

Access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid addiction is limited in New Mexico, but particularly in rural communities. The Santa Fe Recovery Center is hoping to change that in northwest New Mexico’s McKinley County with the help of a sizable federal grant.

The center is poised to receive $1 million dollars annually for the next three years from the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Rural Communities Opioid Response Program Medication-Assisted Treatment Access grant.

MAT uses Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs like methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone in concert with counseling and case management to treat opioid use disorder. The center says MAT can help patients manage withdrawal symptoms, reduce intense cravings and normalize their brain function.

Chief Medical Officer James Besante said the center chose to invest the grant funds in McKinley County because it already runs the Four Corners Detox Recovery Center in Gallup, but also because the need there is so high.

“McKinley County is faced with many structural challenges, including systemic poverty and other social determinants of health,” he said. “And not only is there an enormous burden of substance use in the community, there’s very few treatment access points.”

A 2019 report from the Department of Health showed only two of the county’s 10 substance use treatment locations provide medication-assisted treatment.

The center plans to strengthen those existing services while also building out more.

Dr. Besante said that will include telehealth options and a mobile unit that can provide in-person services at various locations across the county. He said it also means supporting area providers who don’t yet offer MAT.

“Do they need training? Do they need technical assistance? What is that missing piece that’s preventing them?” He said of what the center will investigate. “And in some cases that may be more than education — it might also be working against stigma.”

In addition, he said the center will partner with emergency departments, pharmacies and correctional facilities in the area to further lower the barriers to accessing the treatment.

The first year of the federal grant is set to begin on Sept. 1.

Nash Jones (they/them) is a general assignment reporter in the KUNM newsroom and the local host of NPR's All Things Considered (weekdays on KUNM, 5-7 p.m. MT). You can reach them at nashjones@kunm.org or on Twitter @nashjonesradio.
Related Content
  • People in New Mexico state prisons are unable to access medication for addiction treatment unless they’re pregnant— even if they had been on medication before being incarcerated or were transferred from a handful of county jails that provide it. A new state law is going to change that.
  • New Mexico’s senior U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich is leading a bipartisan call for the Drug Enforcement Administration to make the opioid addiction medication buprenorphine more accessible. In a letter to the agency this week, the group of senators argue the DEA needs to be more transparent about its policies.
  • State prisons are required under the U.S. Constitution to provide “adequate medical care” to those they incarcerate. However, prisons in New Mexico and 16 other states do not provide inmates with medication for opioid addiction, and neither do most of its county jails. Advocates are calling on lawmakers to expand this treatment in New Mexico lockups in the upcoming legislative session.
  • People incarcerated in New Mexico have limited access to medication-assisted treatment for Opioid Use Disorder. A bill expected to be introduced in the upcoming legislative session would change that by making it state law for all corrections facilities in the state to consistently provide it. Assistant Professor of Family and Community Medicine at the University of New Mexico Health Science Center Dr. Nathan Birnbaum treats patients returning home from prison and jail and has been working to get the bill in front of lawmakers.