Thursday, September 12, 2013

New Mexico Drug Problem Could Use Arizona Solutions

National statistics have been confirming what many New Mexicans know anecdotally-- the drug problem is bad, the death rate is horrific, and too many children are suffering the consequences.
Consider:
  • 60 % more drug overdoses in New Mexico than 10 years ago
  • Sales of prescription painkillers rose 131% during the same period
  • Heroin has been a growing problem among prescription opioid users
  • Since 2007, New Mexico has ranked in the top ten nationally for illicit drug dependence
  • 9% of the population reports using drugs, compared to 8% nationally
  • Drug-related deaths in New Mexico occur at double the national rate 
  • Drug-related deaths in New Mexico lead vehicle accidents and firearm deaths as causes of premature death, accounting for nearly 1 out of ten premature death
  • Half the local prison population has been convicted of drug-related crime
If one out of ten adults is using illicit drugs, then how many children are at risk for neglect, exposure, ingestion, abuse, delinquency or drug-related criminal activity and violence? Just last week, two men were caught smoking meth around three children, aged 14, 8 and 5 months. Along with drug possession, they were charge with contributing to the delinquency of a minor—but significantly, not child abuse or child endangerment.

What happened to those children? Who knows? In states with a strong drug endangered children coalition, the arresting officers would coordinate with child protective services, medical professionals, mental health professionals and courts to assess the risk to the children and reduce it accordingly. Despite a host of substance abuse programs in New Mexico (which the federal government funds at about $63 million annually), no one group is taking the lead on addressing the problems the children who are getting caught up in the adult epidemic.

A look at neighboring Arizona might suggest a model for collaboration. The Arizona Alliance for Drug Endangered Children works with tribes, cities, counties, schools and professionals to educate the public about the risks that children face around drug users. AZ DEC alliance members developed protocols to outline the roles and responsibilities of professionals intervening in the case of drug endangered children. In seven years, the Arizona DEC Program resulted in the successful prosecution of over 138  cases involving over 291 children. A special agreement between the state and tribal governments allows tribal officers broader jurisdiction, and more flexibility in pursuing cases across the reservation border. More local collaborative efforts target specific problems, like prescription drug abuse, by involving the entire community in anti-drug causes.

To learn more about how to form collaborative teams that can help children whose caregivers are using drugs, join us in Phoenix for a free two-day training session, October 2-3.



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