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Attorney general enlists district attorneys to fight opioid abuse

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas announced Wednesday the formation of a steering committee of the state's district attorneys and law enforcement agencies to develop what he called "a statewide strategy that is geared toward targeting prevention, education and awareness" of the state's opioid abuse problem. From left are: 3rd Judicial District Attorney Mark D'Antonio; Balderas; 13th Judicial District Attorney Lemuel Martinez; and 1st Judicial District Attorney Marco Serna. All are steering committee members. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas announced Wednesday the formation of a steering committee of the state’s district attorneys and law enforcement agencies to develop what he called “a statewide strategy that is geared toward targeting prevention, education and awareness” of the state’s opioid abuse problem. From left are: 3rd Judicial District Attorney Mark D’Antonio; Balderas; 13th Judicial District Attorney Lemuel Martinez; and 1st Judicial District Attorney Marco Serna. All are steering committee members. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

New Mexico’s consistently high rate of opioid-related drug deaths has prompted state Attorney General Hector Balderas to form a steering committee of district attorneys and law enforcement to develop what he called “a statewide strategy … geared toward targeting prevention, education and awareness” of the problem.

Opioids – drugs that include heroin and prescription drugs such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and fentanyl – are highly effective painkillers, but they’re also highly addictive.

“We have seen, over the last 14 years, overdose deaths caused by prescription opiates have risen faster than deaths caused by heroin,” Balderas said. “We’ve also seen New Mexico consistently ranked in the Top 10 as the worst and most dangerous states in the country” for opiate overdoses. In 2015, New Mexico had the eighth-highest rate of drug overdose deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While an estimated 175 health-care professionals, policy advisers, investigators, attorneys, consumer advocates and others were participating in an opioid abuse training session upstairs at the Hyatt Regency Downtown, Balderas and three other DAs held a news conference Wednesday to announce the formation of the steering committee.

“Today I’m announcing full participation of district attorneys … who are joining a law enforcement network that will be tasked with reducing harm and abuse of the opiate epidemic in each of our communities in the state of New Mexico,” Balderas said.

The committee will be open to all New Mexico DAs, said Balderas spokesman James Hallinan.

“We need to partner with great prosecutors throughout our district, and we also need to continue to partner with health educators, community leaders, lawmakers and, more importantly, we need to partner with families across New Mexico to make New Mexico a more safe place,” Balderas said.

The steering committee, he said, would unite “to take on the opiate epidemic in our backyards directly.” Besides developing a statewide strategy to attack the problem, Balderas said, the committee will get “smart on crime.”

Also speaking at the news conference were: newly elected 1st Judicial District Attorney Marco Serna, whose district covers Santa Fe, Rio Aribba and Los Alamos counties; 3rd Judicial District Attorney Mark D’Antonio, whose district covers Doña Ana County; and 13th Judicial District Attorney Lemuel Martinez, whose district covers Cibola, Sandoval and Valencia counties.

“As many of you may know, Rio Arriba County, specifically, has the highest heroin overdose numbers (per capita) in our country,” Serna said. “So this is right in my backyard and it’s very close to my heart as district attorney.”

D’Antonio noted that the opiate abuse problem doesn’t discriminate among socioeconomic levels.

“By the AG taking the lead role, organizing DAs in a cohesive team to combat this terrible issue is the best idea that’s come along in a very long time,” D’Antonio said.

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