New Mexico Launches Opioid Awareness Campaign

By Kelly Burch 01/09/17

Project OPEN: Opioid Prevention & Education Network kicks off with opioid abuse training on January 11th. 

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New Mexico’s attorney general is launching a new education campaign in order to increase the public's awareness and understanding of opioid addiction, with hopes of lowering the state's drug overdose rate, the eighth-highest in the nation

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas announced "Project OPEN: Opioid Prevention & Education Network" on Jan. 5. The initiative will kick off this Wednesday, when attorneys, policymakers and officials will gather in Albuquerque to learn about opioid addiction in the state. 

“We can no longer allow opioid abuse and addiction to destroy New Mexico families and the future of our youth,” Balderas said, according to the Las Cruces Sun-News. “I created Project OPEN in order to combat the opioid crisis in our state, and our first action will be training New Mexicans who are on the frontlines of this fight at our free Opioid Abuse Training. I encourage advocates, law enforcement officials, healthcare professionals and policy makers from all corners of New Mexico to attend this training so we can work together to make our families safer and healthier.”

Balderas himself will lead the training this week, which will focus on an overview of the epidemic, treatment options, protecting consumers, dealing with fraud, and the court process. Experts from the field of addiction and recovery will also be presenting, according to a statement

Drug addiction is a major issue in New Mexico, which in 2014 was second in the nation for drug overdose deaths. This has reportedly contributed to the state having some of the highest unemployment numbers in the country. In fact, last year, employers in New Mexico said they struggle to find employees who are drug-free and can pass a background check. 

“At a branch meeting the other day, we had 47 open positions and it will take three to four weeks to fill them, if we’re lucky,” said Jalayne Wineland, an Albuquerque-based operator of three staffing companies that place temporary employees, to the Albuquerque Journal. “Everyone is fighting for the same group of entry-level workers who will pass the tests.”

However, others argue that blaming unemployment rates on drug use is backwards. “We see lots of communities self-medicating because of the dire straits they’re in,” said Emily Kaltenbach, director of the New Mexico office of the Drug Policy Alliance, at the time. “We need to look at the poverty that exists in the state, as well as the mental health resources available.”

It is unclear how Project OPEN will proceed after this week. More information about the free training, including how to register for Wednesday's event, can be found here.

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.