Saturday, December 7, 2013
The Associated Press
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — When a New Mexico woman stuck a broom straw through a hole in a speaker that separated her from her inmate husband at a prison visitation room, officials at the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility in Los Lunas, N.M., knew what was happening.
Maine Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte says Maine corrections officials have had to keep an eye on inmates' magazine subscriptions. Inmates were receiving magazines directly from distributors, then mailing them to family members so they, in turn, could send them back laced with Suboxone, he said.
2011 File Photo/Gordon Chibroski
The prison officials rushed the pair in an effort to stop what they believed was an attempt to smuggle drugs, even if it was just a minute amount.
Connected to the straw was an orange string that authorities say was laced with Suboxone, a narcotic used to treat heroin addicts by suppressing withdrawal symptoms.
Prison officials in New Mexico, and elsewhere across the country, say efforts to smuggle Suboxone are on the rise.
In recent months, state corrections officials say, they've seen attempts to smuggle in broken or smashed traces of Suboxone to inmates who are looking to either use the drug or sell it. Among the states that have reported such cases are Maine, New York, New Jersey, Indiana, Mississippi and Pennsylvania.
In some instances, family members have tried to pass the drug inside balloons through a hug or kiss; others have placed Suboxone on the back of stamps or children's coloring books. In other cases, guards have been accused of taking part in elaborate contraband rings.
Prison officials are watching out for new ways that inmates may try to get their hands on the narcotic, which gives abusers an intense high similar to heroin.
"They try everything," said Dwayne Santistevan, administrator of New Mexico's Security Threat Intelligence Unit for the state's prison system.
IN MAINE, IT'S 'THE DRUG OF CHOICE'
As a drug that treats opiate addiction, Suboxone is considered to have a lower potential for abuse than methadone, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The drug was approved by the FDA in 2002, requires a doctor's prescription and must be prescribed at a doctor's office instead of at a treatment clinic.
No one is sure why Suboxone has become a growing presence in prisons and jails. Corrections departments say it's too early to calculate the number of busts, and that the narcotic is just one of many drugs that officials seek to intercept. Officials believe it may be partly because the drug can be relatively easily obtained from doctors.
But Joseph Ponte, commissioner of the Maine Department of Corrections, said it "definitely is the drug of choice now."
"I can't seem to remember recently when a drug bust we had didn't involve Suboxone," he said.
New Mexico Corrections Secretary Gregg Marcantel said states like New Mexico, where heroin abuse is a serious problem, are especially vulnerable.
Some doctors prescribe Suboxone to patients claiming to be addicts, and prisons are also home to a number of inmates struggling with heroin addictions, he said.
"We definitely need an educational effort because this affects us all," Marcantel said. "And we're not alone in fighting this."
In October, for example, Pennsylvania officials broke up an inmate drug-smuggling scheme using postage stamps to conceal Suboxone. Four people in the Bucks County jail were charged with conspiracy.
DRUG FOUND IN MAGAZINES, MAIL
The Maine Drug Enforcement Agency charged four people in March 2011 in connection with a Piscataquis County Jail drug smuggling operation involving Suboxone. Authorities said that an 18-year-old Anson woman allegedly tried to smuggle Suboxone in the waistband of her pants as part of the scheme.
Ponte said Maine officials also have had to watch magazine subscriptions since inmates were receiving magazines directly from distributors, then mailing them to family members so they, in turn, could send them back laced with Suboxone. Maine prohibits magazines in prisons other than those coming straight from magazine distributors.
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