Drug use in local jail increasing

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The Socorro County Commission learned 75 percent of the county jail’s population is there on drug-related charges, plus inmates are using drugs while they’re incarcerated. A few years ago alcohol was the main reason people were going to jail in Socorro.
During his department report at the commission’s regular meeting June 11, Socorro County Detention Center administrator Evangel Maldonado said lately many inmates have been trying to smuggle syringes, heroin, meth, Suboxone and other drugs into the jail, as well as cellphones, knives and more. He said on two occasions, staff even discovered people trying to bring in ammunition.
County manager Delilah Walsh added most of the contraband is smuggled via internal body cavity methods.
At an interagency meeting later in the day in San Antonio, Walsh mentioned county staff also find holes in the walls at the crumbling jail where contraband can be passed, as well as areas on the roof where people have apparently tried to break in. She also said a psychologist at Socorro Mental Health recently told her that his agency has never seen so much hard drug use in Socorro as in the past three months.
Walsh told the commission county staff planned to contact area medical providers to let them know how much Suboxone is coming into the jail since there has been a big increase. She said even if doctors stop prescribing it — and many local doctors have stopped — users will still find it somewhere.
Suboxone is used to treat opioid dependence, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website. It can be prescribed by medical doctors, whereas methadone is only available at a small number of specialized clinics. It is less regulated and therefore more widely available than methadone because it has a lower potential for abuse and is less dangerous in an overdose.
Maldonado said 75 percent of inmates are in jail because of drug-related charges, anything from dealing drugs to committing an unlawful act while under the influence of drugs. He said the jail has seen an increase in medical requests also, with inmates complaining of back pain, tooth pain and various other conditions.
Maldonado said Theresa Rosales, DWI and misdemeanor compliance office director, wants to try to do something to address the heroin problem plaguing the county.
Walsh added inmates are getting a lot of prescriptions filled at the jail, and jail staff receive “tons of med requests.” She said the county only fills non-narcotic prescriptions for inmates, but inmates smuggle narcotics into the facility.
During her department report, Rosales said the DWI and misdemeanor compliance office is currently serving 47 DWI related clients who are receiving addiction treatment. She said the compliance office is also taking Adult Probation Office clients since Socorro Mental Health is short staffed.
“They’re down to like two counselors; they have three or four positions open,” Rosales said. “So we’re trying to take that overflow.”
Rosales said a bigger problem is inmates bringing drugs into SCDC. She noted judges often give probation violators 10 to 15 days before they have to turn themselves in at the jail. That gives them time to hide drugs in their body, which they can do by putting the drugs in a balloon and swallowing it. Rosales said maybe the judges should send people directly to jail so they don’t have time to hide drugs in their bodies.
Rosales said the heroin problem is having a serious affect on the local community. She said although doctors are cutting down on prescriptions for drugs like Suboxone, people are getting opiates from the streets. For example, she said her office did 31 random urinalysis tests the day before, and 16 of the people tested positive for heroin.
Rosales said heroin is easy to smuggle into the jail.
“You need just a small amount to get your whole pod high,” Rosales said. “So there’s a lot of challenges. It just seems like a really bad season for everything.
“The scary part is, is we’re not seeing a lot of alcohol relapse and those kind of things anymore. It really is the drug use. A lot of them are just speedballing, or they’re using meth and heroin, so they get that thrill high with meth and to bring themselves down they  use the heroin. It’s been bad. It’s been a very, very rough two months.”
Rosales said misdemeanor compliance office clients are often testing positive for drug use the moment they are released from jail.
Maldonado added a Socorro Police Department officer told him the other day that police are seeing a lot of uncut heroin in Socorro lately.
Walsh noted three years ago when the county did a detention study, most people were in jail for alcohol-related issues, but now it is almost all drug related.
Rosales said the compliance office plans to start hair testing to screen for drug use. She explained it has been a challenge to keep people from using synthetic urine to cheat on their drug tests. A hair test, she said, reveals drug use going back about 90 days.

In other business, the commission:
• Approved the distribution of grant funds from the state to the county DWI and misdemeanor compliance office.
• Approved a winegrowers license for Black Bandit Winegrowers, which is a vineyard in the northern part of the county.
• Approved an ordinance, effective immediately and in effect for 30 days, limiting the use of fireworks in the county. County fire marshal Fred Hollis noted it is the same ordinance approved by the county commission for the past two years. It is not a total ban on fireworks; it just bans certain aerial devices and restricts fireworks use to areas clear of brush or other flammables. The city of Socorro and the village of Magdalena recently passed similar ordinances. Hollis noted there are four major fires in the state already, and the county doesn’t want to take any chances.
• Approved the county’s participation in the South Central Council of Governments for fiscal year 2013-14. SCCOG provides assistance, when requested, in grant program planning, economic development, strategic overall planning and more. SCCOG also addresses regional issues, plus serves as a liaison and advocate for local governments at the state and federal levels. The county’s annual membership costs $2,486, according to the resolution approved by the commission. The city of Socorro is also a member of SCCOG.
• Approved accounts payable checks from May 30 to June 7 totaling $1,313,129.51.
• Approved payroll for May 29 totaling $170,670.63.

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