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Facebook, AG partner to fight opioid epidemic

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Facebook is hoping to make a dent in New Mexico’s opioid crisis.

The social media giant and New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas cohosted a daylong conference in Albuquerque on Tuesday that brought together Facebook officials, community leaders and professionals to discuss the opioid epidemic and ways in which the tech company may be able to help.

Vaughn Hester, left, of Facebook’s Community Partnerships team, moderates a panel with Kelly Muldoon Rieger, Kym Halliday Clear, Bernie Lieving and Julie Bau discussing the opioid epidemic in New Mexico during an event on Tuesday in Albuquerque. (Jim Thompson/Journal)

“We just can’t investigate, prosecute or litigate enough when it comes to saving lives,” Balderas said. “It takes a different approach. It takes a community approach.”

For years, New Mexico has had one of the highest drug overdose death rates in the nation, most of which are caused by prescription opioids or heroin.

The state went down in the rankings to number 12 in 2016, but state health officials credited other states’ rising rates, not the slight decrease in New Mexico’s rate.

Ana Martinez, Facebook’s head of community engagement for its Southwest region, said Tuesday’s event was intended to provide the company a chance to hear from those at the frontlines of the epidemic.

“Over the years, we’ve seen the incredible ways people are leveraging our tools and Facebook in general,” Martinez said. “Today, we’re here to listen and learn to see how we can provide better tools.”

Balderas said he believes opportunities to use Facebook will be especially helpful to New Mexico, a largely rural state that is often under-resourced.

Some of the youngest members of society are already using social media, Balderas said, and he hopes the platform can be used to educate and prevent them from becoming the newest victims of the epidemic.

“I have seen how children are transformed when you give them a little bit of awareness and education on public safety issues,” Balderas said.

Balderas announced in September 2017 he was joining seven other states in suing the largest pharmaceutical opioid makers and distributors.

Tuesday’s event included a panel of local professionals currently combatting the opioid epidemic and presentations by Facebook staff on using its tools to reach out to communities, target audiences and promote safety.

“People are no longer finding the same meaning and purpose in our local community institutions that they once did and they’re seeking it in other places,” said Vaughn Hester of Facebook’s Community Partnerships team. “We are very optimistic about the role we all can play in restoring social capital and reversing these trends.”

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