State to begin testing wastewater for opioids

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The state will start testing sewage water samples this week for traces of opioids near schools. 

It’s a part of the governor’s public health order to fight gun violence and illegal drug use in the metro.

The state’s Environment Department says they’ll start the testing at three public high schools in Albuquerque this week. 

“That data will be really informative for us to evaluate what kind of proactive and reactive strategies are working in communities to keep fentanyl out of schools, or to deal with it once we find it in schools,” said James Kenney, a New Mexico Environment Department secretary. 

They’re testing wastewater at public high schools in Albuquerque, Bernalillo and Rio Rancho to look for traces of opioids, including fentanyl. 

“I was a little surprised. The Department of Health already puts out a youth risk and resilience survey, and we have students who are self-identifying and self-telling us they have issues. So we already know we have an issue with addiction in our youth,” said APS Superintendent Scott Elder.  

Elder says leaders also know this isn’t just an issue in our high schools. That’s something Bernalillo County Sheriff John Allen also told KOB 4 last month.

“We’re seeing the fentanyl that can look like candy or little Scooby snacks that gets down to people in elementary school,” said Allen last month. 

Parents of elementary students we spoke with Tuesday say they’re not surprised:

“It’s infiltrated our communities, being exposed by parents making poor choices, family members, ways of making money in the community,” said Julio Jaramillo.

A lot of them are already talking to their young children, even if they’re not specifically mentioning drugs.

“I just tell her to be very cautious, not take candy from anybody,” said Sandra Anaya, caretaker. 

Elder says most of the drug education in APS happens in seventh and ninth grade. But teachers talk about making wise choices with students as early as kindergarten. 

“We would certainly teach them to be cautious around strangers. Certainly teach them to not stick things in their mouths they don’t know what it is,” said Elder.  

In a message to parents, he says don’t underestimate how big of an impact you have.

“A lot of times parents think ‘My teenager isn’t listening to me.’ I assure you, your teen is listening to you more than you give yourself credit for. Talk to your kids, let them know you’re there if they know something or see something just tell someone,” Elder said.  

Elder also says the district works with outside contractors, including counselors, so if a student does have an issue with drugs they can be connected to resources. 

This isn’t just a one-and-done test. The New Mexico Environment Department plans to do routine testing statewide to measure and identify illegal drug use. 

The results will take a couple of weeks for the samples to go through the lab, but we should get results at least on these early samples by mid-November.