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New Mexico Granted Millions To Fight Rural Opioid Epidemic

Marisa Demarco / KUNM
Lauren Reichelt, Health and Human Services director in Rio Arriba County

Federal money to treat and prevent opioid addiction in rural counties would have targeted predominantly white areas around the country—skipping New Mexico. The feds changed their plans after KUNM reported a year ago about who was being prioritized. Last week, the state’s congressional delegation announced that New Mexico will pull down two million dollars more of that funding. 

Rio Arriba County—with one of the highest overdose death rates in the U.S.—is planning to use the money to train more physicians and counselors who can treat addiction, create more outpatient options, boost access to overdose-reversal medication and track infectious diseases. The list goes on, and it’s long.

The county’s Health and Human Services Director Lauren Reichelt said the funding will help turn the tide of the decades-long epidemic that’s touched most everyone’s life in that area.

"This money really helps us to build our capacity to meet the need," she said. "We have some really good programs, but the reason it feels to the public like nobody’s doing anything is because we don’t have enough of them."

To really see big, long-lasting change in northern New Mexico—and everywhere else, she said—substance use has to become a health issue and stop being a criminal issue handled through courts and jails. This funding is going to help make that structural shift, she said, in Rio Arriba County.

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