The economic cost of substance abuse is of particular concern to New Mexico, which ranks as one of the poorest states in the U.S. With more than 18% of residents living in poverty, the fact that New Mexico has among the nation’s highest rates of substance abuse-related health problems is troubling. For example, New Mexico consistently ranks as one of the worst in the nation on statistics relating to alcohol abuse. The state’s death rate from diseases related to alcoholism, such as alcohol-related liver disease, have been 1.5 to 2 times the national rate for the past 15 years. During the same time, the death rate for alcohol-related injury stayed fairly steady at 1.4 to 1.8 times the national rate.
Alcoholism is not the only substance abuse problem New Mexico is experiencing. The state’s close proximity to Mexico and the existence of two major highways have combined to create a serious problem with drug trafficking in New Mexico. Mexico is a source of illicit drugs like cocaine and heroin as well as prescription drugs, which can be obtained legally in Mexico and then diverted into New Mexico for illegal use. As these drugs make their way into the United States through New Mexico, they contribute to the state’s problem with abuse of illicit and prescription drugs.
Since 2003, New Mexico has seen a 250% increase in deaths caused by illicit and prescription drug overdoses. According to 2007 statistics, prescription opioid painkillers—such as methadone, oxycodone and hydrocodone—were the leading cause of overdose death in New Mexico, followed by cocaine, heroin, tranquilizers and muscle relaxants, and antidepressants. Drug abuse starts young in the state, with high school students reporting rates of marijuana, cocaine, inhalant, heroin, methamphetamine, and Ecstasy use that are higher than the national average.