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New Mexico is known as the "Land of Enchantment" because of its immense natural beauty and majestic landscape, ranging from wide, rose-colored deserts to broken mesas to high, snow-capped peaks. But there's a dark cloud looming on the New Mexican horizon, far more dangerous than the wildfires that burn there every year.
Drug and alcohol abuse is a national problem, and no state in the US has been spared. For New Mexico —which has always grappled with a large amount of poverty--the circumstances are particularly challenging. New Mexico is the fourth poorest state in the nation, and 20.45 of New Mexicans live below the federal poverty line. 22% of people in New Mexico know someone who has died of a drug overdose, and 54% have a friend or family member with a substance abuse problem. New Mexico's drug overdose mortality rate in 2014 was twice the National average. Given New Mexico's poverty rate and high addiction statistics, it would be easy to think that being poor causes addiction. But, when we look at the relationship between addiction and poverty, we quickly realize that it's a bit more complicated.
Poorer people are statistically more likely to struggle with drug or alcohol abuse, but this doesn't necessarily mean that poverty causes addiction, per se. In fact in some cases, financial troubles are the direct result of a substance use disorder. Poverty does increase stress, and stress is well recognized as a factor for substance abuse and relapse. When you're struggling, there's a great temptation to turn to substances that make you feel good, like drugs and alcohol. Poverty also increases feelings of hopelessness and decreases self-esteem, which can leave some people more vulnerable to developing substance abuse disorders. But, addiction can cause people to slip into poverty too. Someone who is solidly middle class can fall into poverty if their addiction leads to poor work performance and job loss. It can also then be harder to get a new job, if someone has been fired from their old one. It's a vicious downward spiral.
Much like the rest of the United States, the scourge of opioid addiction has blown through New Mexico like a wildfire, laying waste to whole communities, and decimating families. 70% of all drug overdose deaths in New Mexico in 2014 involved opioids or heroin, and in the same year, 7 people died of opioid overdoses every week. Opioid addiction is a particularly menacing foe because it's a malady that can sneak up on people, even when they think they're being vigilant.
Prescription painkillers (like Oxycontin, Vicodin, and Percocet) are highly addictive, in large part because they activate the powerful reward centers in the human brain. These drugs trigger the release of endorphins, (your brain's feel-good neurotransmitters) which mask or interrupt your perception of pain and enhance feelings of pleasure and happiness, creating a short-lasting but extremely powerful sense of well-being. It's only human to love the feeling! And, when an opioid starts to wear off, it's in our very human nature to crave the return of that wonderful sense that everything is perfect and as it should be. This is the first step on the path toward addiction, and it can happen even to people who think they're being careful.
The root of the opioid problem stems from doctors over-prescribing these highly addictive drugs when, in many cases, Tylenol, Excedrin or Advil will do. These drugs may seem safe, especially when doctors prescribe them, but just one or two of few these prescription pain pills can get people hooked and send them off on a downward spiral into the throes of full-on dependency.
Unfortunately, prescription painkiller abuse can often send people down far darker paths. Opioids often lead to heroin addiction, (as heroin is cheaper than the pills, and usually far easier to obtain on the street.) The spiral downward doesn't stop there. When certain street drugs like heroin aren't available, drug abusers often then turn to incredibly powerful and dangerous synthetics like fentanyl, which sooner or later result in a body bag. In the United States, synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, are now the most common drugs involved in drug overdose deaths, responsible for 59% of all opioid-related decedents.
A recent study took a look at the substances most commonly abused by New Mexico youth, and the numbers are concerning:
9% of high school students report they've used cocaine 1 or more times in their lifetime.
4% of New Mexican youth (ages 12-17) report using pain relievers in a way not directed by a doctor in the past year.
The good news for New Mexico residents struggling with drug and alcohol addiction is that help is only a few clicks away. "The Land Of Enchantment" is awash in resources, whether you just need counseling, a broader more community-based approach, or full-on detox services. All it takes is the courage to take the first, terrifying step. Embrace the pain that got you here. Use it, own it, and move past it. Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
New Mexico State Facts
New Mexico Population: 1,813,338
Law Enforcement Officers in New Mexico: 5,705
New Mexico Prison Population: 12,000
New Mexico Probation Population: 10,263
Violent Crime Rate National Ranking: 4
2004 Federal Drug Seizures in New Mexico
Cocaine: 913.6 kgs.
Heroin: 1.3 kgs.
Methamphetamine: 60.0 kgs.
Marijuana: 42,666.2 kgs.
Ecstasy: 144 tablets
Methamphetamine Laboratories: 88 (DEA, state, and local)
New Mexico Drug Situation: New Mexcio falls within the El Paso Division area-of-responsibility. The El Paso Division covers 54 counties in West Texas and New Mexico, comprising 778 miles, which is approximately 40% of the U.S./Mexico Border. The Division has 45 agents in New Mexico, who cover an area that includes 3 Ports-of-Entry (POE) and 6 USBP Checkpoints. The border area between New Mexico and Mexico is sparsely populated and has limited natural or man made barriers to illegal crossing. This coupled with an extensive road network that traverses the state in all directions makes New Mexico a haven for the transshipment of illegal drugs from Mexico to destination points throughout the U.S. New Mexico’s proximity to the El Paso/Juarez area is an additional vulnerability to illegal drugs smuggled through the major Ports-of-Entry. Additional threats to the region are the shipments of controlled substances via commercial vehicles, including aircraft, buses, and by Amtrak rail. New Mexico is also considered a hub for significant amounts of drug proceeds being laundered through small businesses.
Most of the New Mexico/Mexico international border (approximately 180 miles) is open desert and is generally uninhabited with innumerable roads, trails, footpaths, and ranches which allow smugglers easy entry into the U.S. and access to major highways which traverse the country. New Mexico encompasses over 50,000 square miles of land and is one of the largest states geographically, yet it is very sparsely populated. Three interstate highways dissect the state: I-10 and I-40 provide east/west access along the southwest border from California to the East Coast. I-25 provides north/south access from Las Cruces, New Mexico to Colorado and Wyoming. The largest drug threat in New Mexico is the transshipment of drugs and drug proceeds, by Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations (MDTOs). MDTOs have also established local polydrug distribution organizations that are capable of distributing multiple kilogram quantities locally and regionally.
Another factor significantly impacting New Mexico is the strain drug trafficking and immigration cases puts on the federal judicial and corrections system. The U.S. District Court in New Mexico has the highest case load per judgeship in the nation and has the fourth busiest court overall in the U.S. The overwhelming percentages of the caseload confronting the U.S. District Court in New Mexico are immigration and drug cases. In addition to an overloaded court system the state of New Mexico is critically short on jail space. Current enhanced enforcement operations by the Department of Homeland Security in Arizona will most likely force drug traffickers and alien smugglers to shift their smuggling efforts from Arizona to New Mexico. This in turn will have a serious impact on enforcement operations and judicial proceedings in New Mexico.
Cocaine in New Mexico: The El Paso/Juarez corridor serves as a transshipment point for cocaine to various locations in the U.S. Seized loads range from 50-800 pounds. Cocaine is transported through New Mexico by MDTOs at an increasing rate. Multiple kilogram quantities are routinely seized from commercial trucks, public transportation and private vehicles. The most common seizures occur when privately owned vehicles are interdicted with ten to fifty kilograms of cocaine concealed in their vehicle. Cocaine interdicted in New Mexico is typically destined for Denver, Oklahoma City, Kansas City, and Chicago. Recent cocaine interdictions indicate a possible shift to other destination cites in the Midwest and East Coast. Cocaine is also readily available for distribution throughout New Mexico in gram to ounce quantities for local consumption. Local law enforcement authorities consistently rank cocaine and crack cocaine distribution and use as one of the most prominent drug problems.
Crack Cocaine in New Mexico: There is ample availability of "crack" cocaine throughout New Mexico. In smaller municipalities such as Hobbs and Silver City, crack cocaine use and distribution is at a level that is considered dangerous to the quality of life. The majority of the crack available comes from cocaine HCL supplied by MDTOs to local crack distributors who then convert the powder cocaine into crack. Ethnic gangs are the primary distributors of crack cocaine in urban areas. It poses the greatest threat to school children. Street level distributors can be found in all social and economic layers of the community. Of special concern is the high level of violence associated with crack cocaine traffickers.
Heroin in New Mexico: Mexican black tar and brown heroin are routinely seized at the POEs in New Mexico. Black tar heroin has long been available in this region from sources in the Mexican States of Sinaloa, Michoacan, and Nayarit. Heroin is most commonly smuggled in secret compartments in private vehicles and concealed on persons. In Albuquerque, Mexican black tar heroin is most readily available and widely abused. The heroin is usually carried across the border by couriers. Northern New Mexico has a high availability of Mexican black tar heroin and is a major problem for local law enforcement agencies. Heroin availability has shown a steady increase over the past five years as evidenced by the increase in kilogram seizures and a steady decrease in price. An area north of Santa Fe known as the Espanola Valley is consistently rated by the U.S. Department of Health and other statistical reporting agencies as having the highest per capita heroin overdose death rate in United States. Local enforcement efforts have resulted in numerous arrests, however MDTOs routinely rotate their cell managers and other persons frequently making long-term enforcement operations difficult to pursue.
Methamphetamine in New Mexico: Methamphetamine poses a multi-pronged threat in this region. It is available in multi-kilogram quantities. The majority of methamphetamine seized originates in Mexico, but arrives in New Mexico from distributors in Los Angeles, CA and Phoenix, AZ. Methamphetamine investigations are especially prevalent in the area known as the Four Corners Region where the States of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah meet to form a common border and along the eastern New Mexico/Texas border. Popular in the area are the small, clandestine laboratories, set up, especially in New Mexico, in remote, rural locations. In Southern New Mexico, closer to Las Cruces and El Paso, the current preferred process is the "Birch method", that uses chemicals, such as anhydrous ammonia, to process the methamphetamine. Use of the "Birch method" is believed to be an attempt by small laboratory operators to acquire non-controlled chemicals for production, in order to subvert law enforcement scrutiny.
Club Drugs and Hallucinogens in New Mexico: MDMA (ecstasy), Ketamine, LSD, and GHB are available in New Mexico, primarily in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Rave parties are held routinely in the area, often in remote locations on US Forest Service lands. Attempts to infiltrate these parties have been moderately successful resulting in several arrests of low level dealers. Interdiction seizures account the bulk of club drugs and hallucinogens seized. The majority of these seizures originate in the LA and Phoenix areas and are destined for the east.
Prescription Drugs in New Mexico: The diversion of prescription drugs continues to be a significant enforcement issue. Illegal or improper prescription practices are the primary source for illegally obtained prescription drugs, primarily in the oxycodone/hydrocodone families. Interdiction efforts also indicate that prescription drug smuggling from Mexico, where these drugs can be sold over the counter, contributes to the illegal distribution of prescription medications. Compounding this issue, is the state's severe shortage of qualified medical personnel which forces state authorities to grant prescriptive authority to practitioners not licensed in other states. New Mexico has recently become one of the few states to grant prescribing authority to psychologists who have no medical or pharmaceutical training.
Marijuana in New Mexico: Marijuana is the most frequently controlled substance that is seized in the New Mexico area and are generally destined for distribution in eastern markets. Marijuana loads seized from private vehicles and semi-tractor-trailers range from 500 to 8,000 pounds. Multi-pound and multi-ton marijuana seizures occur at all transportation terminals, USBP (Bureau of Customs and Border Protection) checkpoints, and local courier service locations. Marijuana smuggled from Mexico is available from a multitude of sources in both New Mexico and West Texas and is the most prevalent drug in New Mexico. New Mexico's vast National Forest land makes the domestic cultivation of marijuana an enforcement issue.
Other Dangerous Drugs in New Mexico: Several drugs in this category are more available, due, in part, to El Paso's close proximity to Juarez, Mexico, where purchases can be made over the counter from unscrupulous pharmacists. Ecstasy, Rohypnol, and other pharmaceuticals are being used at Rave parties. The use of these types of drugs has not skyrocketed, as in other metropolitan areas in the U.S. These same drugs are available in New Mexico.
DEA Mobile Enforcement Teams: This cooperative program with state and local law enforcement counterparts was conceived in 1995 in response to the overwhelming problem of drug-related violent crime in towns and cities across the nation. There have been 409 deployments completed resulting in 16,763 arrests of violent drug criminals as of February 2004. There have been seven MET deployments in the State of New Mexico since the inception of the program: Clayton, Albuquerque, Portales, Las Vegas, Deming, Espanola, and Clovis.
DEA Regional Enforcement Teams: This program was designed to augment existing DEA division resources by targeting drug organizations operating in the United States where there is a lack of sufficient local drug law enforcement. This Program was conceived in 1999 in response to the threat posed by drug trafficking organizations that have established networks of cells to conduct drug trafficking operations in smaller, non-traditional trafficking locations in the United States. Nationwide, there have been 22 deployments completed resulting in 608 arrests of drug trafficking criminals as of February 2004. There have been no RET deployments in the State of New Mexico.
New Mexico Drug Proceeds: The transportation route through the West Texas/New Mexico area includes drugs coming into the U.S. and money being sent back to Mexico. These drug proceeds are difficult to trace and seize. Money is often laundered through legitimate businesses and money exchange houses. Conducting financial investigations leading to the identification and seizure of assets used to facilitate drug smuggling operations, or acquired as a benefit of such an enterprise, is an effective deterrent. Currency seizures also indicate that New Mexico is being utilized to return drug proceeds to Mexico and to the wholesale distributors in Arizona and California. Two areas of concern for money laundering activities in the state include:
Approximately 14 Native American owned and operated casinos that handle billions
of dollars in cash and almost completely unregulated by state and Federal authorities.
In Las Cruces, New Mexico, less than 50 miles from the US/Mexico border, has over 200 banking facilities, including many that operate from private residences and are not FDIC insured. Cities of similar size averaged 5-10 banking facilities.
Special Topics: The New Mexico HIDTA region was designated in 1990 as one of the five regions of the Southwest Border HIDTA. The region encompasses thirteen counties, three Ports-of-Entry, and about 180 miles of international border shared with Mexico. The New Mexico HIDTA is currently seeking supplementary funding to address the heroin issue in Northern New Mexico. The New Mexico HIDTA is also in the process of restructuring its Intelligence Support Center in order to more effectively target major Mexican and Regional DTOs.