Community leaders speak on growing drug-related deaths, exposure among children

[anvplayer video=”5179277″ station=”998122″]

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – KOB 4 has shared three stories in the past month involving a child being harmed or killed because of drugs. 

We spoke with a local child advocate and child psychiatrist about this growing problem in our community.

“If you are not outraged, if you’re not calling and demanding answers, and demanding improvements – you’re part of the problem,” said Maralyn Beck, founder and executive director of the New Mexico Child First Network.

Without immediate and major changes to the laws and systems we have now, the advocate KOB 4 spoke with worries more children will die.

“How many more front page stories do we have to see of dead, preventable deaths for kids? We are losing a generation,” said Beck.

David Olivas and Chanel Gallegos – the two most recent parents accused of putting their child’s life in danger – will stay in jail for now.

A family member told KOB 4 the suspects’ two-year-old daughter is expected to recover after overdosing on fentanyl this past weekend. But other children have lost their lives.

“One dead baby is too many,” said Beck. 

A presentation from Albuquerque Fire Rescue’s chief in October, revealed firefighters gave narcan 68 times to children under the age of one, in just one year. Twenty-three of those were declared an overdose on scene.

A child psychiatrist with UNM Hospital says they do everything they can for families who come through the emergency department, but their rehab and therapy resources are only voluntary.

“We can’t always force a family, or we can’t always push parents into a recovery process or to change their substance use patterns,” said Dr. Kristina Sowar, an associate professor at the UNM Department of Psychiatry.

If a child’s safety or well-being is called into question, their only other option is to involve police or CYFD.

Child advocates say that’s not enough.

“We saw a legislative session where 60 solutions were introduced, and they never got passed,” said Beck. “The next time we possibly go to legislative session is in January, and we lost three kids in 30 days. If we’re looking at those numbers, it’s like 36 kids at least. How many children have to die before we take action?”

Last week, prosecutors blamed state failures for the death of another two-year-old who overdosed on cocaine.

Our 4 Investigates team recently learned there is little to no follow up to make sure families are getting the help they need through the state’s Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Program, also known as “CARA.”

Instead of getting reported for abuse or neglect, the family is allowed to take their baby home while they consider resources and treatment options.

“What CARA provides is what many people have always relied upon, I think we see often even the courts, relying on CYFD to be this protector of children and really, they have failed – they do not. I think what we’ve seen time and time again is a reunification with children, reunification into very dangerous situations,” said Prosecutor Lisa Roybal. 

Families do not have to get resources and the state is not making sure that happens.

Dozens of bills tailored to fix loopholes like this – that leave children vulnerable – never made it to the governor’s desk during this past legislative session.