Vote 4 NM: A look at the opioid crisis | KOB 4
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Vote 4 NM: A look at the opioid crisis

Kassi Nelson
October 05, 2018 11:51 AM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.— An opioid crisis is plaguing Rio Arriba County.

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“I don't think there's a family in Rio Arriba that is not affected,” said Lauren Reichelt, Rio Arriba County Health and Human Services director.

Historically, New Mexico has had one of the highest overdose death rates in the country, with Rio Arriba County leading the nation in overdose deaths.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, New Mexico dropped to the 12th highest in 2016.

Rio Arriba County also dropped to the fourth highest in the nation for overdose deaths.

But Reichelt said those numbers reflect other communities getting worse, not Rio Arriba County getting better.

She says Narcan, a drug used to treat an opioid overdose, is helping with those numbers, but she believes it’s a small Band-Aid on a massive wound.

“Narcan is a way to prevent people from dying,” Reichelt said.

The county relies on other resources to treat the problem, including outpatient and inpatient treatment, counseling and behavioral health therapy, all which come at a cost.

“Right now, Rio Arriba County is spending 50 percent of its operational budget on catching and locking people up, mostly on drug-related causes,” Reichelt said.

Roger Jimenez, who has been the deputy chief for the Espanola Police Department for two months, says jail is a revolving door for addicts who actually need help.

“It's hard to put these treatment centers, put these case managers and help thousands of people on the funds we have or don't have,” Jimenez said.

David Montoya, who works in the health and human services department in Rio Arriba County, said he was gripped by a heroin addiction for 24 years, starting at the age of 18.

Growing up in Chimayo and Espanola, Montoya said his brothers also used heroin.

“In '05, I found my brother dead in my home due to an overdose and you would figure that would make, you know, open your eyes a little more but all it did was cause even more destruction,” he said.

Montoya said he didn’t realize the damage heroin was doing to him and his family until he served a nine-year prison sentence.

“All the pain it caused, the loss, knowing my boys grew up without me,” Montoya recalled.

When he got out of prison, Montoya received therapy through Rio Arriba health and human services.

Now, he leads Narcotics Anonymous meetings.

“My life has done a complete 360. It's something I thought I would never ever get a chance to live,” he said.

Reichelt says the county often gets grants to help people like Montoya.

For example, a $500,000 grant from the state is helping to coordinate care between providers and police officers.

But that money won't last.

"The level of funding doesn’t anywhere meet the level of need in the state, neither the federal funding nor the state funding, so yes, we're always scrambling for more money,” Reichelt said.

She believes the challenge to keep the resources will get more difficult until addiction is looked at as an illness.

“We're going to have to address this as an epidemic and not as a crime wave,” she said.

Credits

Kassi Nelson

Copyright 2018 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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