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Rio Arriba Not On Feds’ Priority List For Opioid Funding

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Marisa Demarco / KUNM
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Laurien Reichelt, director of the Health and Human Services Department for Rio Arriba County

The federal government is distributing grant money to counties to fight opioid addiction. But Española and the surrounding area might not get any of it, even though communities there have struggled for years with some of the highest overdose death rates in the country.

     Read More: A Nuanced Look At The Opioid Crisis In Northern N.M.

Two-hundred and twenty counties are on a list the feds are using to determine which places are “at-risk,” but Rio Arriba County in northern New Mexico isn’t one of them. Lauren Reichelt said she was shocked to learn this. She’s the director of the county’s Health and Human Services Department, and she started asking around. The list comes from research about HIV outbreaks that emphasized white populations.

Reichelt said that means the federal opioid grants will be skewed toward white communities.

"You create two different means of addressing a disease," she said. "So for one group of people—in this case white people—it’s a chronic disease and you’re entitled to treatment. For another group of people—which would be people of color—it becomes a criminal issue and you throw them in jail."

Rio Arriba County is largely Hispanic and Native American, according to the Census. Using research this way is bad politics, Reichelt said, and communities of color could miss out on hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight a the opioid epidemic here.

     Series: Enduring Addiction

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We reached out to the researchers, the CDC and the Health Resources and Services Administration but didn’t hear back before airtime. KUNM will have more on this story soon.

Marisa Demarco began a career in radio at KUNM News in late 2013 and covered public health for much of her time at the station. During the pandemic, she is also the executive producer for Your NM Government and No More Normal, shows focused on the varied impacts of COVID-19 and community response, as well as racial and social justice. She joined Source New Mexico as editor-in-chief in 2021.
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