Rio Arriba County has the country’s highest rate of opioid overdose. That’s partly because a severe shortage of funding for detox and recovery programs has made it almost impossible for people to get life-saving help with their addictions.
Now Congress has passed a broad health measure that includes $1 billion for addiction treatment and prevention services.
KUNM spoke with Senator Martin Heinrich, who voted for the 21st Century Cures Act this week.
HEINRICH: We fought very hard to make sure the grant programs under this particular legislation get targeted at the states that have the highest need. So rather than leave it up to the Administration to decide ‘I like this state or I like that state,’ it really is driven by the challenges that the states face on a per capita basis. New Mexico is one of the states that really should be getting significant help with the opioid epidemic as a result of this legislation.
KUNM: Significant help, but too early to put any kind of number that?
HEINRICH: Yeah I think it’s too early to put a number on that now, but we are talking about millions of dollars potentially.
KUNM: The states will administer the money that comes from the Cures Act, which in our case would presumably include the New Mexico Human Services Department. HSD has had been in the spotlight for mishandling funds like this in the past—I’m thinking about a recent fraud investigation around their handling of the food stamp program—is there some kind of accountability attached to this money? How do we trust it’s going to be spent in a way that actually makes a difference?
HEINRICH: There will be federal accountability, but I think there’s never a substitute for holding those state agencies accountable as well. That’s something we’ve been taking a very close look at.
It’s going to be up to the state legislature to hold the state agencies accountable. That’s a very important piece of this. But also at the federal level, in order for those grants to continue to flow they’re going to need to meet the requirements of this legislation for spending this money properly.
KUNM: There was broad support on both sides of the aisle for this in the Senate and the House. Do you think the bipartisan support this bill had means there’s a new willingness in Congress to give this problem some sustained attention going forward?
HEINRICH: That’s my hope. Watching this crisis grow to so many other states has been really heart wrenching. The only good that came out of it, however, is that those of us who struggled with this issue for a long time like New Mexico now suddenly had a lot of allies around the country who saw what this can do to families, who see it in their communities on a first-name basis. And that changed the debate. They weren't red states or blue states, they were states across the board.
That allowed us to create a very broad bipartisan coalition from the start. It allowed us to have the kind of support and put together a bill that really avoided a lot of the partisan struggles that so often dominate politics today.
KUNM’s Public Health New Mexico project is funded by the WK Kellogg Foundation, the Con Alma Health Foundation and the McCune Charitable Foundation.