WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 4, 2016) - U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) delivered a speech on the Senate floor to address the national epidemic of prescription opioid abuse and heroin use and its impact on New Mexico. He shared stories of New Mexicans he met from the Española Valley who have battled through addiction.
Senator Heinrich is a cosponsor of S.524, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, a bill being considered in the Senate this week. The legislation would provide a series of incentives and resources designed to encourage states and local communities to pursue a full array of proven strategies to combat and treat addiction.
"This crisis is very real in my home state of New Mexico. For years, without adequate treatment resources, communities have suffered through some of the highest rates of opioid and heroin addiction in the nation. Far too many New Mexico families have lost loved ones and many more are struggling to find treatment and recovery resources for a father, mother, son, daughter, or for themselves," said Sen. Heinrich in his remarks. "By taking a comprehensive approach to combat this addiction epidemic, we can ensure people have the opportunity to get on the road to recovery."
Senator Heinrich introduced a bipartisan amendment with U.S. Senator Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) to the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act to require that rural health professionals are included in the Pain Management Best Practices Interagency Task Force created by the bill.
Last month, Senator Heinrich convened a roundtable in the Española Valley with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Regional Director Marjorie Petty and various local stakeholders, including the Rio Arriba Community Health Council, to highlight ongoing efforts and discuss ways to better address the heroin and prescription opioid drug crisis in the state.
Between 2011 and 2013, New Mexico had the second highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the nation. And between 2010 and 2014, Rio Arriba County's overdose death rate was more than five times the national average.
Below are Senator Heinrich's remarks as prepared for delivery:
Addiction to prescription opioid pain relievers and heroin is a growing public health epidemic that's taking a heartbreaking toll on families and communities across the country.
In 2014, more than 47,000 Americans died because of prescription opioid and heroin overdoses.
This crisis is very real in my home state of New Mexico.
For years, without adequate treatment resources, communities in my state have suffered through some of the highest rates of opioid and heroin addiction in the nation.
Far too many New Mexico families have lost loved ones and many more are struggling to find treatment and recovery resources for a father, mother, son, daughter, or for themselves.
Two weeks ago, I visited the Española Valley in Rio Arriba County.
Rio Arriba, which is largely rural with predominantly Hispanic and Tribal communities, is filled with beautiful mountain and desert landscapes that attract artists and visitors from around the world.
Families from Rio Arriba can trace their lineage to Spanish settlers who came to New Mexico in the 1600s and to Indian Pueblos and Tribes that have lived in the region for millennia.
But, tragically, Rio Arriba County has also long been home to the highest rates of heroin addiction and overdose deaths in the nation.
In fact, between 2010 and 2014, the County's overdose death rate was more than five times the national average.
This is tragic.
Just last month, I convened a roundtable discussion in the area with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Region Six Director Marjorie Petty and local stakeholders, including the Rio Arriba Community Health Council.
We gathered at the Delancey Street Foundation in Ohkay Owingeh to discuss ongoing efforts and ways to better address the heroin and prescription drug crisis in New Mexico.
What I heard loud and clear from public health officials, from law enforcement and first responders-and probably most importantly, from people who have coped with addiction-is that this crisis is hitting entire communities hard.
Everyone knows a family who has a child suffering through addiction and recovery, and many have lost loved ones to drug-related deaths.
For decades, drug addiction and substance abuse have been passed down generation to generation in families in Rio Arriba and in communities across New Mexico.
The introduction of prescription opioid pain medications such as oxycodone and hydrocodone into the market over the last two decades has poured fuel on his fire, creating even more cases of opioid abuse and heroin addiction.
These prescription opioid pain medications-which are chemically similar to heroin-have produced new pathways toward addiction.
In many instances, by the time someone has finished with their prescription drug treatment, they're already hooked.
So they turn to purchase new pills, either through a new prescription or through other means, and when they can't afford pills, they turn to heroin.
Over-prescription of opioid drugs and the widespread trafficking of lethal black tar heroin have both contributed to the ongoing public health crisis in New Mexico and across the nation.
The statistics are sobering:
From 2002 to 2013, opioid-related deaths quadrupled nationally.
Drug overdoses were the leading cause of injury death in 2013.
Among Americans, ages 25 to 64 years old, drug overdoses caused more deaths than motor vehicle crashes.
Over this same period, New Mexico families and communities have borne the brunt of this epidemic.
Between 2011 and 2013, New Mexico ranked second nationally for drug overdose deaths.
And it is getting worse by the year.
More New Mexicans died of drug overdoses in 2014 than in any other year on record.
547 people died in New Mexico due to drug poisoning, including deaths from prescription opioids and heroin overuse.
But rather than focus solely on these statistics and the tragic loss of life-and the devastating consequences of the heroin and opioid epidemic on our communities-I would like to take a moment to share with you the stories of some of the people I met during my recent visit to Rio Arriba.
Jesus toured me around Delancey Street.
The Delancey Street Foundation is a national residential self-help rehabilitation organization that helps former substance abusers, ex-convicts, and others who have hit rock bottom turn their lives around, get clean, and learn academic and vocational skills.
Residents commit to a minimum stay of two years. During that period, a comprehensive treatment program often produces dramatic results.
Delancey Street's facility in New Mexico is located on a 17-acre ranch in Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo.
Residents learn vocational skills to get jobs in livestock management, culinary arts, retail sales, construction, waste water management, and landscaping.
Jesus came to Delancey Street after getting caught up in using and selling pills and heroin in the Española Valley. He had two DUI's and suffered through alcoholism and substance abuse.
In 2011, when a judge gave him the option of going to Delancey Street instead of serving a nine year sentence in prison, he took the chance.
Through a long process, he received treatment and learned how to cope with his addiction.
Jesus has stayed at Delancey Street past his two-year commitment and has taken on new responsibilities. He now serves as a mentor and role model to new residents who are trying to overcome their addictions.
I met another man named Josh. He is a peer-to-peer support worker at Inside Out Recovery Center in Española.
Josh was born and raised in Española, where he saw drug and alcohol use as the way of life in his community.
When he was 14 years old, a high school friend with a prescription for hydrocodone offered some pills to Josh. He quickly became addicted.
Over time, his opioid addiction led him to the point where he was shooting 7 grams of heroin per day, stealing from family and friends to pay for his addiction, and going in and out of the prison system.
At one point, while going through withdrawal in a jail cell, Josh was unable to eat for weeks and lost over a third of his bodyweight.
He remembers later attempting suicide in an act of desperation to end his addiction-but failing when his gun didn't go off.
In his late twenties, after going through these intense struggles, Josh was introduced to the Inside Out Recovery Center.
He met a peer-to-peer support worker named Alex who had done the same drugs and been through the same struggles.
Josh realized there was a way to stop using and turn his life around.
When a judge sentenced Josh to probation instead of prison for an offense, he was released from jail and went straight to Inside Out and committed to treatment.
He says it was the first time he'd been released and hadn't immediately returned to drug use and alcohol.
At Inside Out, Josh received peer support and learned conflict resolution and coping skills. He credits the program with saving his life.
Now that Josh has his life back, he is working to help others in his community get their lives back.
Finally, I want to tell you about Rufus, a 22 year old Navajo and Hopi man who lives in Pojoaque.
When I met Rufus during my visit, he was getting ready to graduate from his treatment at New Moon Lodge Treatment Facility in Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo.
New Moon Lodge is a residential addiction treatment center that serves clients from New Mexico's American Indian communities.
Although the center treats different types of addiction and substance abuse affecting tribal communities, including alcoholism, recently, New Moon has seen more cases of opioid and heroin addiction.
Rufus's addiction to opioids began when he was prescribed hydrocodone to help with a hand injury that he received when he was 16 years old.
Rufus became addicted, and once his prescription ran out, he turned to buying pills illegally, moving up to higher dosages, and then, eventually, moving to heroin.
He got expelled from high school his senior year and fell deeper into his addiction.
After years of use and going in and out of jail for various offenses, Rufus came before the Pojoaque Tribal Court last year and was given the option to go to New Moon for treatment.
New Moon helped him see the person he could be without the drugs. Rufus just graduated from his treatment at New Moon last week.
Now he is looking forward to building a stable home life for his girlfriend and baby by going back to school to get his GED and work toward being a mechanic or an artist.
I tell all these stories to demonstrate that, when provided with an opportunity to receive comprehensive treatment and rehabilitation, people who have suffered through the trials of opioid addiction can turn their lives around and help their communities heal in the process.
But, sadly, in addition to hearing these success stories, I have heard far too often that people who are looking for help have nowhere to go.
Particularly in New Mexico's rural, tribal, and impoverished communities, there is a severe lack of access to proven treatment and rehabilitation resources.
We desperately need more detoxification centers, more transitional housing facilities, more outpatient services, and more behavioral health resources.
We as a nation are not doing even close to enough to provide adequate treatment facilities and resources to communities like those in the Española Valley that are struggling to meet the challenges of the growing heroin and opioid addiction crisis.
That's why I'm co-sponsoring the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, championed by my colleagues Senators Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Rob Portman of Ohio.
This legislation provides a series of incentives and resources designed to encourage states and local communities to pursue a full array of proven strategies to combat addiction.
To ensure that this effort meets the needs of rural and tribal communities like those in New Mexico, I introduced a bipartisan amendment with my friend the senior senator from Wyoming, Senator Mike Enzi, to require that rural health professionals are included in the Pain Management Best Practices Interagency Task Force created by the bill.
But in order to truly provide local communities the tools they need to tackle this crisis head on, we need funding.
Which is why I am also cosponsoring emergency funding legislation, championed by my colleague Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, to provide supplemental appropriations totaling $600 million for drug prevention and treatment programs.
I understand that Senator Shaheen's efforts to include her funding legislation as an amendment failed to get enough votes this week, which is deeply disappointing.
But I think that the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act is still a good first step toward addressing this epidemic, and you can be sure that I will continue to fight to address it here in the Senate and back in New Mexico.
Addiction is a disease that can happen to anyone. It transcends region, race, gender, and socioeconomic status. And it's a vicious cycle that we've seen too frequently in New Mexico.
By taking a comprehensive approach to combat this addiction epidemic, we can ensure people have the opportunity to get on the road to recovery.