New substance abuse program hopes to educate, provide resources

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SANTA FE, N.M. – The state’s “Harm Reduction Program” is taking aim at substance use around New Mexico. 

On Monday, officials with the program told lawmakers it’s not only helping educate users but keeping them alive. As part of the program the state distributes supplies and resources to substance users – life-saving drugs like naloxone.

Last year, program participants reported more than 3,000 overdose reversals. But officials believe that’s just scratching the surface. It is a reality that many New Mexico communities are struggling with, the rapid rise of a deadly drug–fentanyl. 

“We gave narcan 68 times to children under the age of one, and 23 calls for the same age group, under the age of one, our providers declared in their charting that that was an overdose. So that’s pretty alarming to us that young, young children are getting into their parents, or their caregiver’s fentanyl,” said Emily Jaramillo, Deputy Chief of Emergency Services, Albuquerque Fire Department

The state’s Harm Reduction Program with the Department of Health is working to target that group and other substance users to provide education, resources, and even drug supplies.

On Monday, they updated the state’s legislative Health and Human Services committee.

“People are having to use more fentayl more frequently, that’s also building tolerance faster. So thats what we’re facing right now,” said Joshua Swatek, program manager of the Harm Reduction Program

This year they started handing out fentanyl test strips so users would know what they are using. Since May, they’ve handed out more than 50,000 test strips, and more than 21,000 doses of naloxone to that high risk group. Their participants say it’s helping save lives.

“Potentially 3,421 times that our program participants saved a life. That’s a great number but we know it’s an undercount,” said Swatek. 

He says there’s even more work to do to meet even more people where they’re at, in hopes of getting them the help they need.

The state will soon start providing other supplies for safer smoking. The goal is to pull even more people in to help educate and provide even more resources, and if wanted providing treatment options.