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Six New Mexicans died per day from alcohol in 2021 and report warns treatment falls short

Liren Chen, Flickr

While New Mexico has long struggled with the nation’s highest rate of alcohol-related deaths, the pandemic has inflamed the issue, according to a report released Thursday. The state saw an average of six people die each day from alcohol in 2021, and few living with the addiction are getting treatment.

The Legislative Finance Committee’s progress report on addressing substance use disorders shows deaths caused by alcohol increased 31% from 2019 to 2021.

While the rate has gone up each year for about the last decade, according to data from the Department of Health, it’s now climbing considerably faster and has hit an all-time high of more than 100 alcohol-related deaths per 100,000 people in the state.

New Mexico has invested more in treating substance use disorders in recent years, but the report says it uses data too sluggishly to have a solid understanding of how that treatment is being used and what more is needed.

The most recent health department data shows only about a third of New Mexicans with a substance use disorder were receiving treatment in 2018. While alcohol is by far the most common substance addiction in the state, people addicted to it are also the least likely to get care.

The report notes medication to treat alcohol use disorder is underused. It advises medical licensing boards to include the treatment in continuing education for all providers.

The report also recommends the state invest as many resources in preventing alcohol addiction as it does in treating it.

One effective approach the report cites is upping taxes to make alcohol more expensive. However, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham vetoed the first such increase in decades passed in this year’s legislative session.

Nash Jones (they/them) is a general assignment reporter in the KUNM newsroom and the local host of NPR's All Things Considered (weekdays on KUNM, 5-7 p.m. MT). You can reach them at nashjones@kunm.org or on Twitter @nashjonesradio.
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