In the Fall of 1998, New Mexico's Department of Health released the results of a study indicating that the state leads the nation in numerous key indicators of substance abuse related sickness and mortality. In response to these disturbing statistics and to the pleas of citizens and public officials alike, Senator Pete V. Domenici, R-N.M., conducted a series of public meetings in Espanola (Rio Arriba County, New Mexico) to examine how the federal government could assist the people of New Mexico in addressing the related problems of chemical dependency and crime. During the meetings, the senator listened to public health officials, law enforcement personnel, educators, drug prevention and treatment experts, physicians, representatives of local government agencies and members of the business and faith communities talk about the human toll taken by widespread substance abuse and illegal drug trafficking in North Central New Mexico.

Among those participating in the field hearing on the heroin problems in Rio Arriba County was Assistant Attorney General (AAG) Laurie Robinson of the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs (OJP). AAG Robinson testified on March 30, 1999 about the resources OJP has available to engage 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. AAG Robinson based her remarks on the lessons learned by OJP in assisting both large urban and smaller rural jurisdictions throughout the country that have faced health and safety problems similar to those confronting the residents of the Espanola Valley.

During her testimony, AAG Robinson stressed the importance of government agencies and service providers collaborating with each other, working in partnership with the community, and embracing a balanced and coordinated approach to crime prevention, crime control, and community empowerment. She pledged OJP's commitment to work with government officials as well as the citizens of Rio Arriba County in reducing drug use and trafficking and in improving the quality of life in the county. Following her testimony, AAG Robinson assembled an interdisciplinary team representing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of New Mexico and non-government organizations to assess the need for strengthening and coordinating drug prevention and treatment in Rio Arriba County.(1) Specifically, the mission of the team was three-fold:

  1. To go to New Mexico and listen to government officials and community leaders in order to gain a better understanding of the nature and extent of substance abuse and crime in North Central New Mexico;
  2. To recommend an infrastructure that could be established and implemented in the near future to support a balanced and comprehensive approach to reduce substance abuse and control associated crime; and
  3. To identify and allocate technical expertise within the federal government that could be leveraged to support the ongoing efforts of the State of New Mexico, as well as Rio Arriba County, in reducing the demand for illegal drugs, combating crime, and improving the quality of life in communities coping with the stress imposed by widespread chemical dependency and crime.

OJP's technical assistance Response Team visited New Mexico during the weeks of April 25th and June 13th, 1999. This report reflects the insights gained by the team as a result of interviews conducted with numerous government officials, drug prevention and treatment experts, emergency room physicians, criminal justice officials and community leaders in New Mexico.(2)

Following this Introduction, the report is organized in five major sections. Section I describes the nature and extent of substance abuse, illegal drug trafficking, and violent crime in Rio Arriba County and the ongoing efforts within the state to combat these related problems. Section II proposes and describes an infrastructure that can be adopted by the citizens of Rio Arriba County (with assistance from the federal government) to prevent and control drug-related crime. Section III catalogs the type of technical assistance that is forthcoming from the federal government to complement the work being done by New Mexicans to enhance public health and safety. In Section IV the Response Team provides concluding remarks regarding the challenges facing New Mexico in its campaign to prevent and treat drug addiction and to interdict drug trafficking. The Appendix identifies the members of OJP's Response Team, as well as the individuals in New Mexico who were interviewed by the team. Other relevant information is also contained in the Appendix.

It would be inappropriate to proceed further without expressing the Response Team's sincere gratitude to all the individuals and organizations in New Mexico who so freely shared their time and expertise during our visits in the state. If this report provides any insight into the problems facing the citizens of the Espanola Valley, it is due largely to the generous way in which those whom we interviewed helped us to see not only the problems, but also the rich and vibrant cultures, history, and traditions of the people who live in that northern river valley. We thank them.

1. The individuals making up OJP's Response Team are identified in the Appendix to this report.

2. A list of the individuals interviewed by OJP's Response Team is provided in the Appendix.

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