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Partnership to tackle heroin, opioid epidemic

We’ve seen the photo – a 4-year-old boy from East Liverpool, Ohio, in the back seat of a car, two adults in the front, unconscious as a result of a heroin overdose.

Through social media, this painful scene has brought further nationwide attention to a public health crisis affecting tens of thousands of communities throughout the United States.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2014, this nation averaged 129 drug overdose deaths per day. Over 60 percent were related to heroin or pharmaceutical opioids.

The problem is growing.

Between 2007 and 2014, the number of deaths involving heroin increased by 340 percent.

These statistics highlight a disturbing trend that affects every segment of our society. It doesn’t matter where you live – East Liverpool or Washington D.C., in rural or urban America or Indian country – nearly everyone has been touched by this national epidemic.

This week, the Department of Justice is participating in more than 100 events across the country aimed at raising awareness of the dangers of heroin and pharmaceutical opioid abuse.

At town hall meetings, symposiums, high school-focused prevention programs and screenings of the documentary “Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opiate Addict,” U.S. attorneys are partnering with medical professionals, tribal leaders and public health officials to bring attention to this epidemic, highlight law enforcement success in disrupting drug trafficking operations, and providing the public and those struggling with addiction information about available resources for treatment.

Working together, we can tackle the problem.

In New Mexico – a state that, in 2014, had the second-highest per capita overdose death rate in the country – we are seeing the benefits of collaboration.

In 2015, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Mexico partnered with the University of New Mexico’s Health Sciences Center to launch the HOPE (Heroin and Opioid Prevent and Education) Initiative. This program works with local community organizations, such as the Bernalillo County Opioid Accountability Initiative, and is focused on strengthening diversion, rehabilitation and reentry programs.

This week, the HOPE Initiative will host a listening session with the leadership of the Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council, representing eight of New Mexico’s 22 federally recognized tribes located in a region of the state hardest hit by the opioid epidemic.

They will be joined by the U.S. Attorney, senior leadership in the Office of the Deputy Attorney General, Indian Health Service employees who provide care to the state’s Native American population, and University of New Mexico physicians who are providing pain and addiction training to Indian Health Service providers throughout the country.

As part of an ongoing effort to address the needs of our most vulnerable communities, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Mexico has also partnered with the Pueblo of Isleta to establish one of the first reentry programs in Indian country.

By working together to ensure that formerly incarcerated tribal citizens have access to housing, substance abuse programs, and education and employment opportunities, we are providing them with the tools and the support needed to successfully reenter their communities.

Efforts such as these play an important role in combatting the heroin and opioid epidemic ravaging not only New Mexico, but also the entire country. The work of culturally appropriate and innovative programs like the HOPE Initiative and the reentry program at the Pueblo of Isleta are an example of innovation we can build upon at the Department of Justice with other federal, tribal, state and local agencies.

Together, we must address this major public health crisis by preventing addiction, enforcing drug laws that hold accountable those who are poisoning our communities, and healing those whose lives have been taken over by this affliction.