Editorial: New Mexico is the worst country in the nation for alcohol-related deaths

Drunk and drunk driving has been a problem in New Mexico for so long that it’s easy to become numb and fail to recognize the full impact of alcohol’s destructive force in the state.

A drop in the alcohol-involved fatality rate may create the false impression that NM’s alcohol “problem” is improving when the data indicates it is as bad as ever, if not worse.

In fact, not only does New Mexico have the highest alcohol-related death rate in the country, but its rate is double the national average. Consider:

• On average, five people died each day from alcohol-related causes in New Mexico in 2020.

• One in five deaths among working-age adults (20-64) in New Mexico is attributable to alcohol.

And it’s not drunk driving that drives up the numbers.

Alcohol-related chronic liver disease caused about a third of the 1,878 alcohol-related deaths in New Mexico in 2020, making it the most common cause of alcohol-related death in the state. . According to the New Mexico Department of Health, New Mexico’s death rate of 86.6 per 100,000 population that year was more than double the national rate of 41.5 per 100,000.

Those numbers are significantly higher than numbers lawmakers heard Wednesday during an all-day hearing to examine alcohol’s role in crime, disease and death in New Mexico. The numbers they saw were several years older, but they were still shocking and a wake-up call for lawmakers.

The Senate Committee on Courts, Corrections, and Justice received the numbers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 2011 to 2015. Adjusted for age and population, the CDC estimated that New Mexico averaged 53 alcohol-attributed deaths per 100,000 population per year, compared to a national rate of 28 deaths. Figures are based on deaths related to excessive alcohol consumption, including binge drinking and chronic health conditions, car accidents and homicides.

“It’s mind-boggling to me that we would be double that of other states,” said Sen. Joseph Cervantes, Democrat of Las Cruces and co-chair of the committee. “We’re not just worse, we’re off the charts.”

Meanwhile, decades of public education campaigns about the consequences of drunk driving along with an increase in ride-sharing services have helped reduce the number of drunk driving deaths in New Brunswick. Mexico, although we still rank among the states with the highest drinking and driving problems in New Mexico. the nation.

New Mexicans binge drink at higher rates than residents of other states.

We are the drunken city of the nation. According to the NMDOH, one in seven New Mexicans binge drink. Even when we’re smart enough not to drive when warned, excessive alcohol consumption triggers violent incidents, injuries, and chronic illnesses. Alcohol plays a significant role in suicide, child abuse, traffic accidents, gunshot wounds and homicide. All of these problems have a huge social and economic cost.

A 2010 figure from the Centers for Disease Control indicates that excessive alcohol consumption costs New Mexico $2.2 billion, or more than $1,000 per New Mexicoer per year. It is hard to believe that this figure did not increase over the following decade.

New Mexico has long recognized that we have a problem. But Wednesday’s hearing shows once again that New Mexico’s alcohol problem is much bigger than the DWIs.

Aryan Showers, director of the Department of Health’s Office of Policy and Accountability, acknowledged that the state’s alcohol problems date back decades. It may be a symptom, she said, of other societal ills and difficult to address through stricter alcohol regulation.

But lawmakers would do well to measure the impacts of the many aspects of the 2021 Liquor Control Act to determine how each element affects public health outcomes. Remember, this is the same law that gave retailers in McKinley County the choice to sell gasoline or liquor, but not both, and they chose…. alcohol.

It also banned the sale of miniature liquor bottles for off-site consumption, but made it easier for restaurants to acquire licenses to sell liquor, allowed existing licensees to make door-to-door deliveries alcohol and restaurants and bars to sell beer, wine and cocktails. from 11 a.m. on Sundays rather than noon. There were good arguments for all these moves, but the state should do follow-up studies to weigh their impact.

Some lawmakers took note on Wednesday of a recent series by New Mexico In Depth, a nonprofit news organization, about the state’s alcohol problems. The “Blind Drunk” series concluded that the state has largely neglected the crisis even as it worsens.

The series noted that state alcohol taxes – which public health scientists say should be commensurate with the true social cost of alcohol – have fallen to their lowest real value in 30 years. .

Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, said the 2021 reforms could be the start of more changes, including how we tax alcohol.

On Wednesday, lawmakers adopted no particular solution. Among the ideas that popped up were expanding technology in cars to detect driver drinking (the federal infrastructure bill of 2021 includes it in new cars thanks in large part to advocacy U.S. Senator Ben Ray Luján, DN.M.); make alcohol less available in convenience stores; reduce the presumed intoxication rate by 0.08% for blood alcohol; and improving behavioral health programs.

Meanwhile, the NMDOH intends to strengthen its surveillance and data collection on fetal alcohol syndrome and other alcohol-related problems to give policymakers more information on how to address the problem.

Last week’s hearing sounded the alarm bells lawmakers need to bring this issue to the fore.

Because alcohol continues to devastate the health, safety, pocketbooks and quality of life of New Mexicans.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned because it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than that of the editors.

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