Dear Residents and Community Leaders of Española and Rio Arriba County,
Recently, several community members and leaders have expressed concerns about a drug treatment facility soon to open in the Española Valley for county residents. This facility clearly addresses a community need that in this past year has garnered unanimous support from the City Council and the Rio Arriba County Health Council. Many of our constituents have asked us what we are doing about the drug epidemic and the opioid crisis. This is one way that we are working to bring treatment and resolution to this much-needed crisis in our County. As Commissioners, we share many of the same concerns and hold shared values on this matter – about maintaining public safety, the security of our children, protecting property values and our businesses.
Public anxiety about drug treatment centers and the belief they attract crime is quite common, but not exhibited by the data. The demonstrated experience in Rio Arriba, in the state of New Mexico and across the nation is that these centers do not create safety issues. No research study, and there have been many, has found an increase in crime, increased threats to children, or any similar safety concern. In fact, we have two facilities that have successfully operated for more than 20 years in the villages of Alcalde (Delancy Street) and Velarde (Hoy Recovery) without incident. The operator selected for Española has run a facility in Rio Rancho for the past five years next to a day care center and public businesses with no issues.
Although most people would agree that treatment is beneficial for those with alcohol and drug problems, when it comes to where to put these facilities it needs to be in someone else’s back yard. The resistance to offering treatment in this particular neighborhood cites a nearby school, as well as numerous stores. Unfortunately, this is an area with long-standing and well-established drug use, vagrancy and crime which requires regular police intervention. While the need for treatment in this neighborhood is substantial, there is an argument being made that professional and medically qualified treatment will pose a security threat and immediate hazard.
Actually, areas where drug treatment centers are located have been shown to have even less crime than other types of medical centers. In fact, studies have found that crime actually decreases the closer you are to a treatment center (see attached research summary). We know more treatment centers are needed throughout the county and if we refuse the people seeking recovery, as well as those providing services to them this problem will only continue to grow. It is estimated between 15% – 28% of Americans will have a substance use disorder at some point in their lifetime. That is roughly a quarter of our community – one in four people among us. This is not their problem, it is our problem.
The County made a very thoughtful, informed, and data-driven decision to meet a critical public health need. Drug treatment centers are a public health need. They are as necessary as urgent care centers, hospitals, and schools. On average only one out of ten addicts can access a treatment program. That is how dire the situation is. Our county has the worst drug addiction and opioid overdose problem in the state. We understand this additional treatment center will improve the health & welfare of our community. It is an investment we have diligently planned and worked towards over the last several years and now we are finally able to make a reality. Not just a gain for the moment, but for the long-term. We are talking about breaking generational cycles of addiction here.
So, there is an evidence-based policy argument here, but there is also a moral and ethical argument to be made. It is unethical to make policy decisions based on fear and prejudice, in direct opposition to the objective evidence and to established best practices. Providing these services is not only for the benefit of the individual drug user to improve their quality of life, but also to lessen the social and economic burden on their families, their friends, and our community as a whole.
We are saddened by the rhetoric advancing unproven fears and amplifying the social stigma of those seeking drug treatment. We are talking about our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, and children. As a community we need to try to serve, to heal and to give a new opportunity to our own. It is also important to understand, when officials have imposed strict zoning regulations and moratoriums targeting treatment centers and other community services like homeless shelters, they are violating the federal and state laws that protect individuals with disabilities.
Addressing Your Concerns & Questions:
- People being admitted – This facility will serve local residents. It will be screening out those with violent criminal records or sexual offences. They will not be admitted as warranted.
- Security precautions – include selecting a provider with a proven track record and the highest quality treatment model, hiring skilled professional staff, 24/7 security guards, security cameras, monitored entrance, safety fencing, and off-site accompaniment.
- How drug addiction spreads – Drug addiction is not spread from buildings that are next to one another. In studies done by the county, addiction is spread by untreated family members living and interacting with children in their family and friendship circles.
- Public Notification & Engagement – Regarding assertions that the county failed to notify stakeholders or engage the public about this facility – we can confirm that in the past year there have been more than 15 public events where this was discussed and shared with the community. There are established practices for public engagement and information sharing that we made sure to follow including public notices, public hearings, meetings, mailers, presentations, news articles and public announcements.
The narrative that this effort is some conspiracy is sorely mistaken. That line of thought only compromises trust in local governance, sabotages our development and tears apart our community fabric.
Let us take stock of the situation. The County is repurposing a vacant state-of-the-art $12 million dollar medical facility in a strategic location. It has a restrictive covenant placed on it by its previous owners preventing it from being used as a skilled nursing home. Yet it was designed for medical care and residential treatment. So, we have spent the last two years applying for one and a half million in State and Federal grants to purchase and renovate this facility for substance abuse treatment for our residents. It will offer some of the highest quality and most critically needed medical services in one of our greatest areas of need. We will be taking countless residents struggling with addiction off the streets and reducing the family burden they pose – helping give them a path forward, to employment, to sobriety, to restored relationships and providing jobs for over 75 people. We will also be saving the county residents millions of dollars that can be directed elsewhere – to our schools, senior programs, hospitals, and other vital services.
BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS FOR RIO ARRIBA COUNTY, NEW MEXICO
Leo V. Jaramillo, Chairman, District I
James J. Martinez, Commissioner, District II
Danny J. Garcia, Commissioner, District I