With one of the highest drug overdose death rates in the country, New Mexico is now looking to college campuses to affect change in surrounding communities. A new, first-of-its-kind effort designed to curb prescription drug opioid use and underage drinking is being led by The University of New Mexico Campus Office of Substance Abuse and Prevention (COSAP).

The program, which is being funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, will work to develop and maintain a campus and community coalition to address these problems, first on University campuses and then in local communities. According to organizers, New Mexico is the first place in the nation to implement this kind of statewide effort through local universities to spur change in surrounding communities.

“We’ve been given this grant for five years to better serve our college population by integrating the communities in which they live, work, learn and play to help students live a healthier lifestyle,” said Tiffany Martinez, the COSAP program specialist leading this effort.

According to Martinez, college aged students (18-24) have been found to be one of the most at risk populations when it comes to the current opioid epidemic. Because of that, she says this new program is designed to make significant changes when it comes to prevention efforts at the University level which will then have an impact on the greater community.

“Our vision and hope is to eradicate the problem of opioid misuse, abuse and overdose deaths.” – Tiffany Martinez, COSAP

Martinez says this push is just getting underway. Right now, COSAP is working to identify and recruit ‘champions’ from UNM and the community to work together to address these issues.

“This is a problem that we all share, not just right here on our campus,” said John Steiner, COSAP program manager. “And, by getting the people in the neighborhoods, law enforcement and on campus together, we can bring some power to bear.”

This effort will also be implemented across the state through four other higher education institutions; New Mexico State University, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Santa Fe Community College and San Juan Community College.

COSAP logo

“We’ll be asking all of the schools to create a coalition and find out who the key stakeholders are to be able to figure out what the problems are, where they come from and how to best address them in their particular region,” Martinez said.

This new program represents a significant change for COSAP, an office that’s been in existence at UNM for more than 20 years. In the past, staff had focused primarily on underage drinking, binge drinking, driving under the influence and drug use prevention. Recently, the state grant that funded that work for the past 12 years was cut due to statewide budget problems.

Thankfully, this new grant was awarded at an opportune time and will help COSAP continue to make positive changes at the University and beyond.

Anyone interested in learning more about this new program or participating in the coalition to address prescription drug opioid use in the community can contact Tiffany Martinez at COSAP.