A concerted effort to stem the tide of opioid use and addiction that was first considered in 2021 is moving forward through the regional Opioid Remediation Collaborative. The counties of Socorro, Catron, Sierra, Valencia, Cibola and Hidalgo signed a Joint Powers Agreement to form the collaborative.

The Socorro County Commission’s decision to become involved in the partnership was motivated, in part, by the county’s overdose death rate. According to figures released in August by the state’s Department of Health, Socorro County ranked 14th in New Mexico’s overdose death rate, with 23 total overdose deaths between 2016-2020. This represents 0.8 percent of total overdose death incidents in the state. Socorro County had an overdose death rate of 30.7 per 100,000 people with a five-year moving average.

The other five counties in the collaborative showed similar or slightly higher overdose death rates. Only Cibola ranked better than Socorro.

A total of $195 million in federal funding was allocated to the state of New Mexico and is disbursed county by county. According to the Joint Powers Agreement, the estimated year-one distribution is $113,641 to Socorro County. $17,439 goes to Catron County, $119,198 to Cibola County, $28,848 to Guadalupe County, $30,333 to Hidalgo County, $159,100 to Sierra County, and $427,768 to Valencia County.

Socorro County Manager Michael Hawkes said the JPA was the most efficient and effective way to use the federal funding.

“The amount of money each county is getting, we feel, isn’t going to be enough to serve the number of people and provide the quality of service that is needed,” Hawkes said. “That’s why we signed on to the collaboration because we know it takes a collaborative effort in terms of staffing and sustainability.”

In other words, each county lacks the in-house expertise to develop a sustainable treatment system.

Hawkes said a Board of Directors will exercise the common power to develop and implement a “sustainable, best practice, opioid treatment resource or program that will assist in closing the addiction treatment gap for those suffering from opioid addiction.”

The six-member board will consist of a representative appointed by each of the participating entities.

The agreement stipulates that the County of Valencia shall be the fiscal agent for the ORC and that the opioid remediation fund “shall be held in a separate line item of the Valencia County budget, which fund shall consist of the opioid litigation proceeds from each of the participating entities, federal monies, legislative appropriations, public and private grants, gifts and private donations received to develop and implement a system of sustainable regional opioid remediation.”

“Of course, we hoped that the venue would be in Socorro County, but the main thing is to provide a venue that will have the capacity and capability to serve those in need and sustain it with high-quality service,” Hawkes said. “That’s what we’re all about.”