Rio Arriba County, N.M., just north of Santa Fe, is a Georgia O'Keeffe landscape of juniper-dotted desert and mountain valleys populated mostly by Hispanics who proudly trace their lineage to settlers of the 1600s. A decade ago, the county was identified as having the nation's highest per capita rate of deaths from overdoses. Hundreds of families there are struggling to live with a multigenerational plague of narcotics, reports the New York Times. Federal data released in March showed that the county ranked first in drug fatalities for 2001 to 2005, with a death rate of 42.5 per 100,000, compared with a national average of 7.3.
Heroin use in the county jumped in the 1970s, as world production soared and some Vietnam veterans returned as addicts. It zoomed in popularity in the 1980s and '90s. Intensified law enforcement and a flurry of new treatment programs have failed to stem the use of narcotics here. So New Mexico has adopted the country's most sweeping effort at “harm reduction,” a strategy to eradicate disease, suffering and death among addicts that includes exchanging used needles for clean ones and dispensing Narcan, an anti-overdose drug. Last year, the state adopted the country's only law limiting the ability of the police to arrest users who call 911 to save an overdosing companion.