U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez announced an initiative Thursday that emphasizes addiction treatment, community partnerships and prison release programs as a way of cutting crime and curbing New Mexico’s high rate of drug overdose deaths.
The University of New Mexico and other partners will provide addiction treatment and prevention expertise for the initiative, he said. Martinez also promised a new focus on prosecuting “rogue clinics and pharmacists” that illegally distribute prescription painkillers.
The initiative, called the Heroin and Opioid Prevention and Education Initiative, or HOPE, was outlined by Martinez and Dr. Paul Roth, chancellor of the UNM Health Sciences Center, who met in August to discuss the initiative.
Roth and Martinez announced the plan at a summit meeting of the Bernalillo County Opioid Abuse Accountability Initiative, formed by county officials in 2012 to find ways to reduce overdose deaths.
“The problem we face is not just a criminal justice problem – it is a public health problem,” Martinez told about 200 people who attended the summit at the Central New Mexico Community College Workforce Training Center in Albuquerque.
The initiative “recognizes that we cannot simply arrest our way out of the drug problem.”
Martinez also said his office is working with Pueblo of Isleta officials to create a prisoner release program that would offer housing, job training, addiction treatment and other services to Isleta members who are released from prison. If successful, the program could serve as a model for other tribes and pueblos, he said.
New Mexico has one of the nation’s highest overdose death rates, much of it driven by the increased prescribing of opioid painkillers since the 1990s, and more recently by a spike in heroin use.
Drug overdoses killed 449 New Mexicans in 2013, down from 521 deaths in 2011, when New Mexico had the nation’s highest overdose death rate.
“This is emerging as a crisis for our generation,” Martinez said during a break in the meeting.
Officials hope to piece together funding from a variety of state and federal sources, together with reimbursements from insurers and Medicaid, Roth and Martinez said.
The U.S. Justice Department last month announced a national heroin initiative intended to provide funding for local efforts such as the HOPE Initiative, Martinez said.
Roth said UNM plans to seek additional funding from the state Legislature this year to bolster a variety of drug abuse prevention and treatment programs.