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.



(2) comments

Linda Bence
Linda Bence

A year and a half is a long time to be sitting on the bench. If you have the experience and knowledge to set things right, why is it that you have to be elected to put your skills to work. You would be in a much stronger position now if you had put some of your plans in action. So, I believe it is time for a change and to see what Jeff McElroy will do. Hopefully, he won't wait until next election to tell us what he can do but that he will get to work right away.


Thanks you so much, Judge Cooper, for your dedication and passion to address the insidious and destructive scourge of addiction and abuse in our communities. It is detroying our culture, th heritage we leave future generations, and our loved ones.

Thank you for wanting to provide more resources to help addicts recover. Of course, our freinds and family who are involved in drug use, abuse, and the economy it supports have to WANT the help; in order for programs and therapies to work, the people engaged in the behaviors have to WANT to change them .

And wanting the help is unlikely to happen (maybe impossible?) when the culture of substance abuse is considered normal and even admirable by the people involved in it. How can we "help" people stop doing something when they LIKE doing it and it feels right to them and everyone thy surround themselves with?

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.