The triangle of land in northern New Mexico between Santa Fe, Taos and Los Alamos has been a place to call home for a number of artists, authors and Hollywood elites including, among others, Julia Roberts and Val Kilmer, and continues to be a hot spot for second homes for those looking to get away from city life.  
 
Amidst this triangle of wealth lies the Espanola Valley, an area which stands in stark contrast for its much different claim to fame. Here, among a population of less than 30,000 people, an average of 40 lives are lost each year to heroin overdose, the vast majority of whom are of Spanish-descent, or Hispano. According to Angela Garcia, UC Irvine anthropologist, the number is more than 6 times the national average, marking the area as having the highest rate of heroin-induced death in the United States.  
 
In a recent study published in the journal Cultural Anthropology, she takes an in-depth look at drug addiction and its root causes in the rural New Mexican landscape. Her findings, based upon five years of interviews, surveys and anthropological research in the area, indicate a strong tie between elevated levels of heroin use and the Hispanos' lost connection to the land and historical culture.  
 
"Over hundreds of years, the people in this area have been stripped of land they hold a historical claim to," she says, referring to the cycles of colonial conquest and the more recent governmental acquisition through eminent domain of the land on which Los Alamos National Laboratory currently sits. "Traditional activities of farmers and ranchers have come to a halt as the local people have lost their lands and gone to work in the labs."  
 
The loss of ownership and subsequent change in overall culture, she says, is one of the main factors contributing to the area's high drug use, a problem perpetuated by shared generational use. "Parents and children use together which makes it extremely difficult to stop the cycle of addiction," she says  
 
"Multiple programs have come into the area focusing on methadone treatments, medical detox, and other types of addiction therapy, and all have failed," she says. "It's becoming increasingly clear that generations of addicts can't be treated and cured through pure science. While medical treatments shouldn't be dismissed, they miss the underlying economic disparity that is the real culprit behind addiction."  
 
Garcia's full study is available online in the October 29 issue of Cultural Anthropology. Funding for her research was provided by the National Science Foundation and National Institute of Mental Health. 

 

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