Rio Arriba County protests opioid 'vulnerability' list | KOB 4
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Rio Arriba County protests opioid 'vulnerability' list

Erica Zucco
May 24, 2018 05:12 PM

TERRA AMARILLA – On Thursday, Rio Arriba County Commissioners passed a resolution it says protests a list of counties the county believes are prioritized for funding in the fight to end the opioid epidemic.

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Despite cutting-edge treatments by doctors and a surge of drug use prevention and recovery programs, recent studies still position Rio Arriba County as an area with comparably high overdose rates.

"I don't think anybody's thought about what it means to have an entire generation really struck down," said Rio Arriba Health and Human Services Director Lauren Reichelt said.

Known nationally for its struggles and efforts to turn things around, Reichelt said leaders were upset to see their county – and all in New Mexico – missing from a list by the Centers for Disease Control listing prioritized counties for funding to fight the opioid epidemic in rural areas.

The county says congressional officials looked into the list and says they found it was based in part on factors that included racial demographics and the potential spread of HIV through injection drug use- something Rio Arriba County says it's proactively fought through needle exchange programs. Leaders are asking for a fair shot at federal funding and a compassionate approach to ending the epidemic.

"Whether that means getting Narcan on the streets, making treatment available, not jailing people but instead getting them into care. These aren't things we should punish communities for. Communities should be incentivized to do that," Reichelt said.

Sen. Tom Udall's office says he received assurance that this list will not mean that funding is limited to those counties. He released a statement, reading:

"Every day New Mexicans are losing people they love to the opioid epidemic. Families in New Mexico counties like Rio Arriba know this is an emergency, and what they need are resources and results. I will keep fighting to push this administration and Congress to do more to help the New Mexico families and communities that are most in need get access to critical prevention and treatment programs that save lives.

"I was also deeply concerned by the flawed list of counties that HRSA announced would be a priority for funding – and I’ve been working to get this corrected.  I recently received clarification from HRSA that the funding is in no way limited to just the 220 counties and that all at-risk counties in need are eligible and encouraged to apply for these grants. I will do everything I can to make sure New Mexico counties are prioritized for this funding - we worked hard to set aside millions in federal dollars to fight the opioid epidemic and New Mexico deserves its fair share."

Sen. Martin Heinrich added:

"I stand with Rio Arriba County and counties across New Mexico who know all too well that the opioid and heroin addiction epidemic is a public health emergency in our state.  Congress provided the Trump Administration $3.3 billion to fight this epidemic, but it isn’t being delivered to communities fast enough.  They need to get that support out the door immediately, and in a fair way that represents true need."

Congressman Steve Pearce also weighed in on the issue, writing:

"Opioid addiction is destroying lives and communities throughout New Mexico. It cannot go on. We must bring together every resource of government, our civic organizations, churches, and families to treat drug addiction and free our people from this scourge. I agree with local and national designations that call attention and bring resources to bear on this problem."

Congressman Ben Ray Lujan released a statement reading:

"I stand with New Mexican families impacted by this crisis to say enough is enough.  I have been fighting continuously to provide more resources for New Mexico communities to address the ongoing opioid crisis. As an active Member of the Energy and Commerce Committee – the committee with primary jurisdiction over health care in this country – I have worked to advance a package of 53 bills addressing the opioid epidemic. I am the author of eight of these bills and each of them were written with New Mexico’s unique challenges in mind. My initiatives address everything from the addiction treatment workforce shortage, to the desperate need for more treatment facilities, to providing better services for moms struggling with opioid addiction and babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome. Additionally, I advocated tirelessly for resources to go to both rural and western states.  I am hopeful that this package will advance to the floor of the House and eventually onto the President’s desk. Though the President has proven that he can sign bills that Congress has passed, he has yet to show the American people that he can meaningfully address the issues they’re facing at home.

"More than seven months ago, President Trump declared a public health emergency to address the national opioid epidemic. Since then, the President has taken no clear action to address the challenges faced by millions of Americans suffering with addiction. In 2018 alone, Congress has provided $3.3 billion in funding to combat this crisis, but this money is not reaching the communities like Rio Arriba fast enough. The Trump administration has yet to provide real help with these dollars. I will continue to hold the Trump administration accountable to ensure this funding gets to communities like Rio Arriba and other New Mexico counties who need it most."

KOB 4 reached out to the Centers for Disease Control for a statement Thursday but did not hear back by airtime.

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Erica Zucco

Copyright 2019 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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