“This epidemic does not discriminate,” said U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez. “It affects infants born addicted to opioids, high school athletes who become addicted to opioid painkillers and later die from heroin overdoses, grandparents who end up addicted to painkillers following medical procedures … and families who are devastated by their loved ones’ addiction and overdose deaths.”
In response to what many see as a crisis, the Journal and KANW radio are sponsoring a forum on June 15 that will air live on KANW, beginning at 7 p.m.
The forum will feature Martinez, UNM Health Sciences Center Chancellor Dr. Paul B. Roth. Other experts will be in the audience to address the issues and answer questions submitted by the public about the long-standing problem.
About 90 percent of the 540 drug overdose deaths in New Mexico during 2014 involved heroin or prescription painkillers, making it Number 2 in the nation for overdose deaths per capita.
And Martinez said that number is just the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to New Mexico’s heroin and painkiller addiction problem. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that there are 825 non-medical users of opioid drugs or heroin for every overdose death, Martinez said.
The Journal, KANW, Martinez and Roth have invited more than 20 experts who will gather in the Journal auditorium to answer a wide range of questions the community may have about the problem.
“When it comes to opioid abuse in New Mexico, the challenge is daunting – we have the second highest overdose rate in the U.S.,” Roth said. “We cannot incarcerate our way out of this problem. It’s going to take a team effort that includes education, treatment and law enforcement. That is why we have partnered with the U.S. Attorney’s Office on the HOPE Initiative.”
Last year, Martinez and Roth formed the New Mexico Heroin and Opioid Prevention and Education (HOPE) Initiative, which aims to reduce the number of opioid-related deaths in the state through education, prevention and law enforcement.
Many of the organizations providing expertise for the forum are members of the HOPE Initiative.
The public can submit questions for the forum by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for submitting them is June 5.
The Journal will sort the questions and distribute them to the experts who will research, then answer the questions during the live broadcast, which will air from 7 to 9 p.m.
Journal editor Kent Walz and investigative reporter Mike Gallagher will serve as moderators.
“This is a subject we have covered extensively, but this will provide an unprecedented opportunity to explore the problem and solutions,” Walz said.
Martinez said the purpose of the forum is to educate New Mexicans about the dangers of opioids and help prevent them from succumbing to the epidemic.
Experts can answer questions ranging from how to find help for a loved one to the impact on crime in New Mexico, and what law enforcement is doing about it.
The forum’s experts will come from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the UNM School of Pharmacy, Generation RX, the New Mexico Poison Center, Bernalillo County’s MATS program, Albuquerque Public School counselors, UNM School of Medicine Milagro Program, Greater Albuquerque Medical Association (GAMA), Healing Addiction In Our Community and others.
KANW, 89.1 FM, is a non-profit, non-commercial public radio station owned and operated by Albuquerque Public Schools.
“This is an opportunity to get the best available information out to the community,” KANW General Manager Michael Brasher said.