State Makes Progress On Overdose Deaths, Group Plans Menorah Of Hot Air Balloons

Dec 30, 2016

New Mexico Highlights Progress On Overdose DeathsAssociated Press

New Mexico officials are highlighting the state's progress in reducing drug overdose deaths as a new law goes into effect to increase monitoring of prescriptions for opioid pain medication.

The state Department of Health announced Thursday that New Mexico no longer ranks among the very worst states when it comes to drug overdose deaths.

Statistics compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show New Mexico moved up from 49th place in the rate of overdose deaths per capita in 2014 to 42nd place in 2015.

A New Mexico state law taking effect Jan. 1 requires physicians and medical practitioners to check with the state's prescription drug monitoring program before treating patients with opioids and again every three months to avoid the danger of overlapping prescriptions.

Albuquerque Police: Mother Disappears With 6 Kids – Associated Press

Police say they're searching for an Albuquerque mother who disappeared with her six children after being accused of beating one of her teenage sons earlier this month.

Police spokesman Daren DeAguero says the children range in age from 3 months to 14 years.

Investigators say one of her 14-year-old sons, who is not among the missing children, showed up at a police station barefoot early Dec. 18. He told officers that his mother attacked him after accusing him of molesting one of his younger siblings.

Officers couldn't find the mother that morning so an arrest warrant was issued. She and the six children were last seen at their home that day.

Police say the woman is facing charges of child abuse, criminal sexual contact of a minor and kidnapping.

Santa Fe Officer Accused Of Harassment Reportedly Resigns – Santa Fe New Mexican 

Officials say a Santa Fe police sergeant on probation for threatening a paralegal has resigned, though the officer says otherwise.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that Santa Fe Police Chief Patrick Gallagher said Wednesday that Sgt. Charles Lujan resigned a day after an internal investigation into the threat allegation was completed.

However Lujan said Thursday that his resignation was just a rumor started by another officer. He declined to comment when asked if he believed Gallagher was providing false information.

Lujan came under scrutiny in June 2015 due to allegations that he threatened a paralegal who had testified as a witness in a timesheet fraud case against another officer. Lujan pleaded no contest to criminal charges stemming from the incident and was sentenced to probation.

Substance Abuse Means More Relatives Seeking Custody Of Children – Santa Fe New Mexican

A spike in substance abuse has resulted in far more people seeking custody of abused and neglected children from their relatives.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports officials in family courts have seen an increase in guardianship cases of more than 70 percent between 2014 and 2016. They say opiate addiction is the primary cause.

Officials in the First Judicial District, which covers Los Alamos, Rio Arriba and Santa Fe counties, are trying to recruit more foster parents as a result. Many relatives such as grandparents opt for guardianship rather than foster care. But that means they don’t get state assistance to care for children.

Henry Varela, spokesman for the Children, Youth and Families Department, says there is a new program that will give family members a stipend if they take guardianship of a child.

Lawmakers also created a taskforce in 2015 to work on issues grandparents face when raising grandchildren. They’re seeking funds to create a network that would offer help and services.

Gila National Forest Grows With Land Transfer Associated Press

The Gila National Forest in southern New Mexico is now nearly one square mile bigger.

The Trust for Public Land says it has conveyed 605 acres to the U.S. Forest Service through an arrangement paid for with money from the national Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The property along the Upper Bear Creek was already surrounded mostly by federal land and includes a mile of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail and a stretch of the Trail of the Mountain Spirits National Scenic Byway.

Officials say the transaction will give visitors better access to the national forest.

The property was purchased for $1.8 million from a private landowner by The Trust for Public Land. The Forest Service then purchased it for the same price using money from conservation funds.

Study: Chaco Inhabitants Likely Relied On Imported Food – Associated Press

Salty soils and dry conditions throughout northwestern New Mexico's Chaco Canyon would have made it difficult to grow enough corn to sustain the multitudes of people who resided at the once monumental gathering spot centuries ago, according to a new study.

University of Colorado-Boulder scientist Larry Benson's research adds fuel to the theory that Chaco inhabitants relied on food imports from elsewhere in the Four Corners region.

A UNESCO World Heritage site, Chaco Culture National Historical Park encompasses what's left of an ancient civilization whose architecture and cultural influences have been a source of mystery for years.

Some archaeologists have theorized that Chaco's influence spread far and wide from its remote desert location to cover an area twice the size of Ohio. The park includes a series of great houses, or massive multistory stone buildings, some of which were oriented to solar and lunar directions and offered lines of sight between buildings to allow for communication.

The archaeological record also includes evidence of a network of ceremonial roads that lead to Chaco as well as pottery and tool making materials that indicate the inhabitants regularly traded with others.

The latest study offers just one more piece to the puzzle while raising questions about Chaco's population and the suggestion by some that corn must have been plentiful to feed the masses.

"There's very little actual data to prove that," Benson said. "I'm a geochemist, not an archaeologist, so I'm used to collecting data and analyzing it to see what it says."

Much of the corn consumed by those at Chaco may have come from more fertile lands near the Chuska Mountains along the Arizona-New Mexico border, said Benson, an adjunct curator of anthropology at the university's natural history museum.

He considered soil samples, previous research that looked at the isotopic signature of plants in the region and tree ring data compiled by researchers at the University of Arizona. The tree rings indicate the minimum amount of annual precipitation necessary to grow corn was exceeded less than 3 percent of the time.

Nathan Hatfield, chief interpreter at Chaco park, said Friday that archaeologists and others who have studied Chaco have long assumed that food was coming into the community from elsewhere and the study helps confirm that belief.

Despite the lack of water and other natural resources in the immediate area, Hatfield said residents of Chaco weren't totally reliant on imports.

"Archaeological evidence does show signs of cultivated fields and also different forms of irrigation and water control so they were certainly making efforts," he said. "How successful those efforts were, I'm sure in some years it was very difficult."

On the eastern slopes of the Chuska Mountains, the study suggests winter precipitation was substantial and features of the landscape helped to funnel spring runoff to irrigated fields.

Benson said more attention should be paid to outlying areas such as the Chuskas and their connection to Chaco. Aside from food, experts say timber from the mountains was used in the construction of Chaco's buildings.

With its long winters, marginal rainfall and short growing seasons, many archaeologists are puzzled as to why inhabitants chose the canyon. It was never a Garden of Eden, Benson said.

Hatfield said there are many theories.

"You didn't have readily available resources yet they still decided to build there and that's why we think there were more spiritual motives behind it," he said. "They looked at the layout of the canyon and the different features and determined this is it, this is where we have to do our thing."

US Rig Count Up 5 This Week To 658; Texas Adds 3

The number of rigs exploring for oil and natural gas in the U.S. increased by five this week to 658.

A year ago, 698 rigs were active. Depressed energy prices have curtailed exploration, although the rig count has been rebounding in recent weeks.

Houston oilfield services company Baker Hughes Inc. said Friday that 525 rigs sought oil and 132 explored for natural gas this week. One was listed as miscellaneous.

Texas gained three rigs, Oklahoma added two and New Mexico and North Dakota were up one each.

Kansas declined by one rig.

Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Louisiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming were all unchanged.

The U.S. rig count peaked at 4,530 in 1981. It bottomed out in May at 404.

Jewish Group Seeks Record For Hot Air Balloon Menorah Associated Press

A New Mexico Jewish group is organizing a special event on New Year's Eve in hopes of winning a spot in the record books for the world's only menorah made from hot air balloons.

Chabad of New Mexico says the menorah will be made up of nine balloons that will inflate at Albuquerque's Balloon Fiesta Park, which hosts the famous international balloon fiesta each October.

Chabad Rabbi Chaim Schmukler says the menorah will celebrate religious freedom and Jewish pride the New Mexican way.

Organizers say the event will have added significance as it marks 75 years since the influential Rabbi Menachem Schneerson came to America and laid the groundwork for the Chanukah campaign that he set into motion years later. The campaign encouraged Jews worldwide to light their own menorah.

Halliburton To Hire 200 Workers In Permian Basin – Carlsbad Current-Argus, Associated Press

Oil service company Halliburton has announced plans to bring about 200 jobs to the Permian Basin, an area which covers southeast New Mexico and parts of western Texas.

The Current-Argus reports Halliburton spokeswoman Emily Mir says in a Wednesday statement there will be job opportunities in various parts of the basin, including in Artesia.

The announcement comes as local officials say there's been growth in the energy market in recent weeks, with more companies looking to expand in the region.

Shannon Carr with the Carlsbad Department of Development says an increase in oil and gas production will be good for the local economy.

Industry experts say oil prices need to be around $45 to $50 per barrel to be profitable.

Oil prices were at about $53 per barrel on Wednesday.

District Attorney Clears Albuquerque Officer In ShootingAssociated Press

Prosecutors have cleared an Albuquerque police officer in the 2014 shooting death of an Air Force veteran during a standoff at the man's home.

District Attorney Kari Brandenburg announced this week that her office will not bring charges against Officer Daniel Hughes, who fired the fatal shot.

The shooting ended a five-hour standoff with 50-year-old Armand Martin. After police shot flash bangs and tear gas into his home, Martin walked out and fired from two pistols. He was immediately shot in the chest.

The review found that Hughes felt he had no choice but to use deadly force to stop Martin's actions and protect fellow officers.

The shooting came just weeks after the U.S. Justice Department issued a scathing report highlighting a culture of aggression within the police force.

Study: Babies In Home Visit Program Have Less Medical Costs Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

Newborns enrolled in New Mexico's home visiting program are less likely to use costly medical services than other children in their first year.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that according to a new Rand Corp. study, children enrolled in the New Mexico First Born program were a third less likely to visit an emergency room than newborns in a control group.

First Born is a privately funded program that provides in-home services to parents and children in their first year in order to promote healthy child development.

The study, published in the online edition of the journal Pediatrics, compared 138 newborns enrolled in a First Born program to 106 who were not enrolled. It found that children enrolled in the program were 41 percent less likely to make nine or more visits to a primary-care clinic than non-enrolled infants.