The statistics are grim, but the picture is all too clear: We are losing members of our community to alcohol and drug addictions.
Over the past year, since being appointed by the governor as District Court Judge for Division III, I have served as the Juvenile Drug Court Judge. I’ve seen what’s working well in the Juvenile Drug Court Program and what’s not.
I’ve implemented some minor changes to the program, but much more needs to be done! I’ve set up a task force, which has already been meeting, to look at incorporating a nationally recognized program called “Reclaiming Futures.” The motto of that program is, “More treatment, better treatment, and beyond treatment.” It is a program that I strongly believe can work here in Taos County, and in time be expanded to Colfax and Union Counties, where treatment resources are more scarce.
This program can be used alone or overlapped with other programs, is flexible enough to be used in urban or rural areas, and has a proven track record of being effective. Recidivism rates for drug and alcohol issues, especially juvenile crime, have decreased in areas across the country where it has been adopted.
Whether it’s national studies from the Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Justice, or from statewide agencies, such as the Office of the Medical Investigator (OMI) and the Department of Health, the drug problem in New Mexico is widespread and has even been labeled “epidemic” when it comes to death rates involving prescription drugs.
The statistics for Taos County paint an alarming picture. In a recent four-part series by the Albuquerque Journal, Taos County was ranked only behind Río Arriba County and the South Valley in Bernalillo County as one of the most troubled counties in the state.
In the last several years, 27 people from Taos County have died. From Jan. 1 to Sept. 7, 2012, the OMI has confirmed five unintentional drug overdoses in Taos County, and there are more unconfirmed cases awaiting toxicology results.
In 2011, there were seven deaths, 10 deaths in 2010, and five deaths in 2009. Sadly, these losses do not account for all the deaths in Taos County when you factor in suicides, DWI deaths, or health complications from alcohol or drug abuse.
The Albuquerque Journal series also reported that teen drug use in the state, involving heroin, cocaine, and meth, is double and triple the national average — depending on the drug being used. These numbers are tragic and significant in terms of human loss or suffering, but drug and alcohol abuse also affects crime rates in our communities.
Some people may think that the drug problem is too overwhelming to do anything about. Many may ask: “Why try?” But, I believe we can’t afford to not try, or to let this problem continue to run its destructive and devastating course.
We must get better at identifying, early on, individuals who are suffering from drug and alcohol abuse, and in finding appropriate help. This is no easy task; it requires the efforts of the entire community, including the legal community. We must start somewhere, and I believe we need to start with our children by providing early, effective prevention and intervention programs.
It is critical that we reach our “at-risk” kids earlier before it is too late, and juvenile drug court judges are in a unique position to lead this effort. Using the power of the bench to bring together all the key players is important in affecting change in the lives of children and their families, and in making communities safer and healthier.
As your current district court judge, and juvenile drug court judge, I have the experience, skills and leadership to mobilize the community, but I need your help. When the Nov. 6 election is held, I will have been on the bench for nearly 1 1/2 years. Spearheading a new program will require time. I respectfully ask for your vote to keep me as your judge so I can continue these efforts.
I also respectfully ask you to get involved. Your participation matters.
One way you can start is by attending the upcoming Community Summit on Substance Abuse on Wednesday, Oct. 24, at the Kachina Lodge, which I also plan to attend. (Contact the Río Grande Adult Treatment Program at 737-5533 for more information.)
Will change be easy? No, but we must try to make a difference — for our kids’ futures, and ours as a community.
Judge Andria L. Cooper is the Eighth Judicial District Court, Division III. She is on the ballot of the Nov. 6 election.