The root cause of Northern New Mexico's Drug and Alcohol Problems



A quick perusal of the NM Department of Health Substance Abuse Epidemiological Profile for New Mexico, 2013 shows that NM:

  • Has an alcohol-related death rate that’s 1.9 times higher than the national average
  • Has the highest drug-overdose rate in the entire country
  • Has a suicide rate that’s 2 times the national average

Without any doubt, Northern New Mexico owns the worst reputation for drug-related issues, as Rio Arriba County owns the state’s highest drug related death rate.  The data shows that we, as a community, MUST do something to try and get our drug usage and death rates lowered.  But what do we do?

To me, unless we understand New Mexico’s drug problems, we cannot do anything.  For starters, we as a community must dig up the historical roots of this wave of bad juju that’s swamping my beloved state.  I do not believe that our drug usage and death rates are accidental; rather, I believe that they have a developing history, just as any drug abuse issues does within an individual.

This search for the root cause of my state’s problems with drugs, alcohol, and suicide started for me by looking within my own family.  When NM became a state in 1912, the U.S. Inspector General literally kicked my great-grandmother (and eighteen (18) other families) off of their land in a town called, then, San Ildefonso.  The inspector general did this by enforcing Indian Reservation laws used in the eastern and Midwestern US to corral Native Americans into parcels of land.  The Inspector General found that, in San Ildefonso, there was a native Tewa-speaking community and any Spanish family that could not prove their tribal affiliation had to surrender their land to the reservation.  San Ildenfonso, NM become San Ildefonso Pueblo.  My great-grandmother was forced to move to Santa Fe and start a whole new life with her children in a completely foreign world.

While I do think my own family history does lend some evidence to the root cause of New Mexico’s issues, I actually think they started in further back.  In 1846, General Kearney marched into Santa Fe and conquered it with no resistance.  Santa Fe’s Mexican Governer, Manuel Armijo, fled the city and left it exposed to the U.S. forces.  With no leadership, the people of Sante Fe basically gave up and surrendered to the occupying forces.

However, in 1847, a contingent of rebels in Taos, under the leadership of Pablo Montoya, engaged and killed the appointed US governor, Charles Bent.  In addition, these brave souls engaged other tactical targets, but one sticks out to me as significant to our current drug and alcohol problems.

Pablo Montoya’s rebels attacked a distillery owned by a man name Simeon Turley.  Mr. Turley started his “Taos Lightening” brand of whiskey in Arroyo Hondo in around 1835.  He supplied his whiskey to trappers and other traders in the area, but he also sold to local residents.  According to the NM State Record and Archives,  “One of their motivations for destroying the distillery may have been the simmering resentment of the corruptive effects of American whiskey on the local population (please see the complete article here)” I think the Mr. Montoya’s rebels saw, even then, that the culture of substance abuse would terrorize the residents of New Mexico.

The rebellion only lasted a few months before the US occupying forces quashed it. In time, New Mexico became a state of the Union.  However, the displacement of people form their lands, coupled with the lack of New Mexico leadership and substance use during the occupation, has left a lasting legacy that I believe and stipulate is the root cause of our current problems with drugs, alcohol, and suicide.