Louella Duran of Albuquerque was one of a dozen parents who met with Obama’s drug czar, Michael P. Botticelli, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at the White House on Monday to discuss the addiction crisis gripping New Mexico and the rest of the nation. For much of the past decade, New Mexico has been either No. 1 or No. 2 in the nation for drug overdose death rates.
On Monday, Obama proclaimed the week Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week. Justice Department and other federal and local officials have planned 250 related events around the country.
Duran told the Journal she lost her 19-year-old son, Michael, to an opioid and heroin addiction five years ago. She said Michael first became addicted to prescription drugs, then moved on to heroin and eventually died of a heroin overdose. In a conference call with reporters after the White House meeting, Duran said her family had resources and health insurance, so she was surprised at how difficult it was to find treatment for her son.
“I found it unfathomable that I could not help my child, who was afflicted by the disease of addiction,” she said.
Obama wants Congress to approve $1.1 billion in new funding to battle opioid addiction, with a special emphasis on expanding access to treatment in rural areas, boosting the Drug Enforcement Administration’s heroin enforcement budget and enhancing prescription drug monitoring programs, among other initiatives. Some commonly abused opioids include illegal heroin and prescription drugs such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and fentanyl.
Congress passed a bill supported by New Mexico’s entire congressional delegation in July that aims to expand addiction treatment, but delegation Democrats also contend that the legislation falls short. Representatives for Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, and Reps. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Ben Ray Luján – all Democrats – said Monday that the New Mexico lawmakers support Obama’s $1.1 billion request.
A spokeswoman for Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., said the congressman supported the bill approved by Congress over the summer and would want to separately consider additional spending requests as part of the appropriations process.
Luján, who represents northern New Mexico, where opioid addiction is especially acute, introduced a bill earlier this year that reflects Obama’s $1.1 billion opioid addiction strategy. But the bill has not gained traction in the Republican-controlled House.
“When Congress passed legislation to address the opioid epidemic it was a step forward, but frankly it was also a missed opportunity,” Luján said in a statement to the Journal on Monday, also emphasizing the need for New Mexico’s behavioral health system to bolster its addiction services.
After Monday’s event, Duran, who works with the New Mexico nonprofit Healing Addiction in Our Community, said she’s cautiously optimistic that Congress will respond with additional money to fight the addiction scourge.
“I truly hope – and I hope I’m not being naive – that this will make a difference,” Duran said.