Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal
Where you live in New Mexico plays a role in whether you are more likely to live to a ripe old age or die prematurely from a traffic injury, violence or a drug overdose.
And by one measure – the rate of premature deaths weighted by age – a part of metropolitan Albuquerque bordered by Interstate 25, Cesar Chavez/Bridge, the Rio Grande and Interstate 40 is the deadliest place in New Mexico.
It’s also an area where drug overdoses accounted for about 60 percent of premature deaths weighted by age, according to data released by the state Department of Health.
Rates of premature death, defined as before age 75, vary widely in New Mexico, not only from region to region, but also by neighborhood within counties and cities.
Other regions with the highest premature death rates are western San Juan County, western McKinley County, Rio Arriba County around Española, and Sierra and Catron counties in far western New Mexico.
In Sierra and Catron counties, a mixed bag of factors contribute to a high rate of premature deaths, said Lois Haggard, Department of Health community epidemiologist.
They include premature deaths from drug overdoses, heart disease, and No. 1 rankings in deaths from both lung cancer and lower respiratory disease, suggesting high rates of cigarette smoking, she said.
The lowest premature death rates are found on the state’s military installations, which are populated largely by active-duty military personnel.
Areas where New Mexicans are most likely to live to age 75 include affluent neighborhoods in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights and Los Alamos County, which has the state’s highest median income.
Areas with high premature death rates tend to also have high rates of unintentional injury deaths – a broad category that can include traffic injury and drug overdoses.
In areas with low premature death rates, the leading causes of death typically include cancer, heart disease and, in some cases, suicide.
“We think of counties as being relatively homogenous,” Haggard said. “There is wide variation (in premature deaths) across the state, and there is wide variation within each county.”
Bernalillo, Sandoval and San Juan counties each contain pockets of low and high rates of premature mortality, Haggard said.
The agency this week released data called the premature mortality rate, or “years of potential life lost before age 75.”
The measure is the sum of all the years of life lost among people who died at an age younger than 75, expressed as a rate per 100,000 people.
The data give higher weight to people who die at a young age. A person who dies at age 30 would contribute 45 years to the measure, while a person who dies at 70 would contribute five.
By weighting deaths by age, the premature death rate highlights those areas where people are most likely to die at a young age, the Department of Health said in a written statement.
The agency also released an interactive map that divides the state into 108 “small areas,” ranging in size from multicounty regions to urban neighborhoods.
In some ways, the data isn’t surprising. People who live in affluent neighborhoods are most likely to live longer than those who live in lower-income and rural areas, with Indian reservations showing some of the highest rates.
Socioeconomic factors, such as education, income and employment, have a powerful influence on health, Haggard said. “Factors that allow a person to get a good education and to be able to earn a good income also affect their health,” she said.
Among residential neighborhoods, the lowest premature death rate is found in Bernalillo County’s far Northeast Heights area, including Sandia Heights and Tanoan, where median income exceeds $100,000 a year. In this area, cancer is by far the greatest cause of premature death weighted by age, followed by unintentional injury deaths and heart disease.
No area of the state is immune to drug overdose deaths, which end the lives of young people throughout New Mexico.
“This opiate epidemic – one of the things that is curious about it is that it is affecting all social classes,” Haggard said.