Lupe Salazar

Barrios Unidos President Lupe Salazar walks through the greenhouse at the back of the former John Hyson Education Center in Chimayó. Barrios will likely receive no money from a $1 billion federal grant program to fight opiate abuse because New Mexico will only be getting $9.5 million, or 0.95 percent, of the fund.

    New Mexico will only receive $9.5 million over two years from a $1 billion expenditure signed into law, Dec. 13, by President Barack Obama to fight opiate overdoses.

    Even though New Mexico consistently leads the nation in per capita overdose deaths, or the number of deaths per 100,000 people, it is set to receive 0.95 percent of the $1 billion allocated for 2017 and 2018.

    Obama signed the 21st Century Cures Act, an omnibus piece of legislation that increases federal involvement in mental health initiatives, funds cancer research and loosens Food and Drug Administration restrictions on the testing and use of experimental drugs, as well as directing $1 billion to state-level government agencies to fight opiate overdoses.

    The states and territories most impacted by opiate overdoses should be at the top of the list to get the $1 billion, doled out in two payments, according to the Act.

    “In awarding such grants, the Secretary shall give preference to States with an incidence or prevalence of opioid use disorders that is substantially higher relative to other States,” the Act states.

    The monetary awards match up closely with each state or territory’s population. California leads the pack with $44.7 million, followed by Texas with $27.4 million and Florida with $27.2 million, according to the grant application appendix. Those are, in descending order, also the most populous of all the states and territories.

    New Mexico is the 36th most populous state or territory. In terms of money that is to be awarded, it ranks one spot higher, at 35th, behind Puerto Rico, Minnesota and Connecticut.

State block grants

    The state’s Behavior Health Services Division, part of the Human Services Department, has until February to submit a grant application to the federal government for the funds, after the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in charge of the money, issued the guidelines on Dec. 14.

    Department Spokesman Kyler Nerison wrote in an email, Tuesday, that the Division will submit its proposal by the Feb. 17 deadline.

    According to the guidelines, 80 percent of the money must go to treatment, 15 percent to prevention and 5 percent can be used for administrative costs.

    He did not write what the Division’s priorities will be.

    Rio Arriba County Health and Human Services Director Lauren Reichelt said the money is going out as block grants to the states.

    “That makes it much more likely that the money will be received and not swallowed,” she said.

    Having the Division decide where the money goes is far better than a federal agency deciding what is best for New Mexico, she said.

                “Block grants allow (the Division) a wide latitude to make decisions,” she said. “They give a block of money to the state and the state makes the rules about it being distributed.”

    Reichelt attributed part of the push to get the money out so quickly as a result of the presidential election.

    “They’re trying to get the money out to the states, right away, before a new (presidential) cabinet secretary can be appointed and a new congress comes in and (tries) to repeal everything left and right,” she said. “Looking at the turn-around time, they might have only confirmed a cabinet secretary by (the deadline).”

    Instead of a wish list of things the money could be used for in Rio Arriba County, Reichelt would like the Division to bring providers and others in the healthcare community, such as herself, into the grant planning process.

    “There are a lot of things to consider,” she said. “Clinics are a really important part of the system and so is behavioral health.”

    Barrios Unidos President Lupe Salazar, a new organization started with the goal of taking a more holistic approach to drug addiction, said two of her organization’s goals could use funding.

    Barrios Unidos wants to start providing education and prevention services, but that would require funding to get started.

    “We just hired an executive director and we’re looking at it in the new year,” Salazar said.

    In the future, she wants to provide sober living homes for recovering addicts, where they can learn coping skills and how to better deal with conflicts.

    That longer term goal would also require funding.

    “It’s important for these individuals to come to a space with no shame, no blame and to rejuvenate them, and to help them understand they’re important, because, they are,” Salazar said. “That’s where I feel it’s going to start, with the idea that they belong, that they’re needed and they’re wanted because I think addiction strips them of that.”

    In a Dec. 21 interview, Hoy Executive Director Ambrose Baros said the place where he could use the money the most is for transitional living programs that help with people who would otherwise be homeless.

    He also would like help paying for his detox program, which had its funding cut by the Division in July.

    “Basically, our eight beds run us about $700,000 a year, and we have a medical staff. Sub-acute doesn’t require doctors but, I want (us) to be prepared,” Baros said.

Mental health booster

    While the fight against opiate overdoses might be getting a torrent of money, mental health services will also be getting a push at the federal level.

    Inside the 996-page Act are multiple provisions to push federal policy forward on mental health and substance abuse.

    Those provisions include creating a position, appointed by the president, of an assistant secretary for mental health and substance abuse, along with a chief medical officer who will report to the assistant secretary.

    A new organization will also be set up under the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, called the National Mental Health and Substance Use Policy Laboratory, which will evaluate and identify useful programs and help award $14 million in grants between 2018 and 2020.

    The law also authorized $41.3 million for grants to help homeless drug users recover, to be awarded between 2018 and 2020, and $4.3 million in grants for jail diversion programs for the same time frame.

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