Alibi V.20 No.33 • Aug 18-24, 2011 

Council Watch

Heroin’s Toll

A hush descended on the Council Chambers when Jennifer Weiss, president of the Heroin Awareness Committee, spoke at the Monday, Aug. 15 meeting. She's been outspoken about the city’s growing heroin problem among teenagers, which has resulted in several fatal overdoses [“The Heroin Surge,” June 2-8, 2011]. This time, she came to talk about her own 18-year-old son.

Weiss started the awareness-raising organization a little more than a year ago after her son, Cameron, became addicted to opiates. “He lost that battle Saturday morning,” she said at the meeting. With tears on the edge of her voice, she told councilors she found her son dead in his room at the family’s Northeast Heights home. “I wasn’t sure I was going to be here tonight,” she said.

Her message Monday: Heroin is everywhere. “This is not something that resides in certain areas of town or that happens to certain types of people,” she said. “This is something plaguing all of our young people in all pockets of Albuquerque.”

Weiss and more than 50 people wore black, and many of them held photos of young loved ones who'd died as a result of an overdose. Weiss said there are no inpatient treatment programs for teens with opiate addictions in the city. She said Cameron developed his addiction after being prescribed Oxycontin for football and wrestling injuries while at La Cueva High School. He attended sober-living facilities out of town and returned to Albuquerque in June.

The Council voted at a previous meeting to ask the U.S. Department of Justice to look into the Albuquerque Police Department after a rash of officer-involved shootings. Sylvia Fuentes is the mother of Len Fuentes, who was killed by police in 2010. She returned to the Council Chambers this week to express her gratitutde. “I came to thank you,” Fuentes said. “I don’t want to seem ungrateful.”

Candidates for this year's Council election had to announce their candidacy on Tuesday, Aug. 9. The even-numbered district seats will be up for grabs on Oct. 4. No one stepped up to challenge Debbie O'Malley (District 2) or Rey Garduño (District 6). Councilor Brad Winter (District 4) will face Bill Tallman and Councilor Trudy Jones (District 8) will go head-to-head with Greg Payne, who was on the Council from 1999 to 2003.

The Council also added several more polling locations for the October municipal election. Voters will be able to cast a ballot at any polling place in the city that's convenient for them on election day.

The next Council meeting is set for 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 7, in the Council Chambers in the basement of City Hall.

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Issue Council's Take Reporter's Take
Opiate Treatment

Representatives from Albuquerque Interfaith asked the city to provide a space for a teen treatment center and a sober living house. They also requested funding for a teen treatment program and for a City Council liaison to work with the group and address the growing opiate problem. It was suggested the city use a portion of the quarter-cent public safety tax designated for substance abuse treatment and dropout prevention. Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry said that very day Mayor Richard Berry authorized a study to look at the heroin problem among the city’s youth.
Councilors Ken Sanchez and Garduño said they would work with Benton to figure out a way to fund the various opiate treatment projects suggested by the Heroin Awareness committee and others. “We heard you and thank you again for being so brave,” Garduño said.

Sanchez said he was very concerned and thinks there may be some money left over from city funding for the Metropolitan Assessment and Treatment Services, a program for adults. Benton said while using the quarter-cent public safety tax for police and fire is important, so is reducing the dropout rate, as well as drug and alcohol intervention.
This is a cry for help from the many families struggling with heroin and opiate addictions, some that may have started in the medicine chest. City and state administrations have cut funding to treatment programs. Yet money continues to flow to prisons and jails housing drug offenders. State statistics show it costs about $30,000 to house someone in prison for one year and only about $7,000 to provide treatment [“A High Price,” Feb. 4-10, 2010]. Money from all available sources should be funneled into drug prevention, treatment and sober housing programs for residents of all ages—if for no other reason than saving taxpayers’ money.
Strip Club vs. Gym

The Palms Gentleman’s Club, an alcohol-free, fully nude review, opened this month on San Mateo and McLeod near a Defined Fitness gym. The gym folks appealed zoning approval for the strip club, arguing that adult businesses are not allowed near schools. They contend the gym’s babysitting service should be considered a school, and therefore the club should not be allowed. Defined Fitness staffers said they also hold a summer camp where kids are there during the day without parents.
No textbooks, no certified teachers, no classes, not even diaper changing. These are some of the things councilors heard about the gym’s child care facility during the discussion. City zoning staff said in order to be qualified as a school, a business needs to be accredited and have teachers. Councilors denied the appeal on a 5 to 2 vote with Councilors O’Malley and Dan Lewis excusing themselves for undisclosed reasons. Councilors Winter and Don Harris voted in the gym’s favor. This club has no booze, just bodies. But no unmentionables will be on signs visible to youngsters. Plus, the Palms created 30 new jobs, according to the club’s attorney.