In the Fall of 1998, New Mexico's Department of Health released a study indicating that the state leads the nation in numerous key indicators of substance abuse related sickness and mortality. In response to this report and to the pleas of citizens and public officials alike, U.S. Senator Pete V. Domenici, R-N.M., conducted a series of congressional hearings to examine how the federal government could assist the people of New Mexico in addressing the related problems of chemical dependency and crime.
Among those participating in the March 30, 1999 field hearing in Espanola, New Mexico was Assistant Attorney General (AAG) Laurie Robinson of the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs (OJP). AAG Robinson testified about the resources OJP has available to assist communities in preventing and controlling crime and how those resources could be used to assist the people of New Mexico in stemming the growing tide of drug-related crime. Following AAG Robinson's testimony, OJP assembled an interdisciplinary team of public health and public safety experts to assess the role that the federal government could play in helping to enhance public health and safety in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico.
The OJP team visited New Mexico twice and interviewed numerous government officials and community leaders to gain a better understanding of the nature and extent of substance abuse and crime in North Central New Mexico. The team's charter was to recommend an infrastructure that will support a comprehensive and balanced approach to reduce substance abuse, and to identify technical expertise within the federal government that could be leveraged to support ongoing efforts in New Mexico to prevent and control drug trafficking and violent crime. This report describes the team's findings and recommendations.
OJP's team agrees with the Board of Commissioners of Rio Arriba in their finding that ". . . substance and alcohol abuse and their corollary impacts are the greatest threat to the health of the residents of the county." Key indicators of substance abuse related sickness and mortality gathered by the state confirm this conclusion. Unfortunately, existing drug prevention and treatment programs in the county are not adequate to meet its residents' needs, and their effectiveness is hampered by insufficient coordination among the public agencies and private organizations providing the services.
In response, the OJP team recommends that Rio Arriba County implement an infrastructure designed to link federal, state, and local public health and safety initiatives and resources in a comprehensive, balanced approach aimed at reducing the demand for illegal substances, interdicting drug trafficking and its associated crimes, and revitalizing communities coping with the stress of widespread chemical dependency. The infrastructure recommended by OJP places a hallmark on shared leadership by federal, state, and county stakeholders and a premium on a coordinated response to crime and drugs that includes interdiction, prevention, and treatment.
The OJP team also recommends the infusion of a variety of technical assistance resources, to be delivered in different time frames by several federal agencies, to help establish the recommended infrastructure and sustain its ongoing operation.
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