ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The largest city in a state with one of the nation’s worst drug overdose rates was added Wednesday to a federal program aimed at helping similar cities deal with the scourge of heroin and prescription drug addiction.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration on Wednesday announced that Albuquerque would become its seventh city selected to participate in the agency’s 360 Strategy program — a project that began in 2015 to combine aggressive federal enforcement with community outreach.
Under the program, the DEA coordinates with law enforcement agencies in selected regions to fight against drug cartels and traffickers. It also fosters community outreach and works to engage pharmaceutical companies and pharmacists in increasing awareness of the opioid epidemic.
The DEA first rolled out the 360 Strategy in Pittsburgh two years ago.
“Enforcement actions alone will not be enough,” Sean R. Waite, the DEA’s New Mexico Assistant Special Agent in Charge, said. “This comprehensive strategy leverages and expands federal, state and local partnerships…to address New Mexico’s opioid epidemic on several different fronts.”
In 2014, New Mexico had one of the highest overdose death rates in the nation, second only to West Virginia. More recent health statistics show the state is now ranked 44th.
New Mexico has been working for years to curb what has only recently been identified by the highest levels of the federal government as a national epidemic.
Last month, New Mexico became the first U.S. state to require all local and state law enforcement agencies to provide officers with antidote kits in an effort to curb deaths from opioid overdoses.
The state was the first in 2001 to increase access to the overdose-reversal drug naloxone, and a few years later, it led the way in releasing people from legal liability when they assist in overdose situations.
Richard Larson, executive vice chancellor at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, praised the DEA for including Albuquerque in its effort to combat the nation’s opioid epidemic. “New Mexico’s heroin and opioid prescription drug epidemic is a gnawing problem that sooner or later will touch nearly everyone in our community,” Larson said.
The 360 Strategy expansion comes days after Attorney General Jeff Sessions instructed the nation’s federal prosecutors to bring the toughest charges possible against most crime suspects. Sessions contends that a spike in violence in some big cities and the nation’s opioid epidemic show the need for a return to tougher tactics.
But U.S. Acting Attorney of New Mexico James Tierney said he didn’t think that directive would harm 360 Strategy. “We usually don’t prosecute users,” Tierney said. “We go after the manufacturers and traffickers.”
Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras .