Juan Peralta, a 26-year-old DEA educator and Albuquerque native, walked the Daily Lobo through the traveling Drug Enforcement Administration Museum exhibit at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science on Thursday, Aug. 29. The DEA Drugs: Costs and Consequences exhibit runs through December 8, depicting graphic dioramas of the cultivation, manufacture, distribution and sale of illicit drugs around the world.

Scenes were featuring make-your-own meth labs, showing a tiny bedroom with a bassinet, soiled diapers strewn on the floor, a handgun on a bedside table, used needles and discarded works throughout the space.

“Some of these scenes look fairly familiar (to children who are touring the exhibit) and that also plays into the effect too,” Peralta said. “I have seen twelve-year-old little girls cry because their auntie’s house looks like this,” Peralta said.

The museum received $120,000 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Association to cover the costs of setting up and operating the exhibit.

In 2002, the exhibit was displayed under the name “Target America: Drug Traffickers, Terrorists, and You.” The exhibit was originally curated in Virginia at the DEA headquarters and was constructed the year after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

This is an important detail to note because Peralta highlighted that the exhibit still includes real remains from Sept. 11 attacks.

“These are real beams from the buildings and then real shoe remains and things like that,” he said.

Emphasizing the tragedy and loss of drug-related deaths, one kiosk depicted framed photographs of actual law enforcement officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty. These are placed juxtaposed to photos of celebrities who have died from overdoses.

Peralta said the local DEA stations worked with museum personnel to include local examples of drug busts.

These “give you a local story of what (the DEA) have been working on and the huge busts that they have done throughout the years. For example, Operation Rock Slide consisted of a drug trafficking organization that was trying to build its own gang.”

Dr. Larry Leeman, the medical director for the University of New Mexico Hospital Milagro Program for Substance Abuse in Pregnancy, said that people need to take a step back from looking at the drug problem from a legal perspective and instead look at how they are ravaging our communities. 

“Our communities are experiencing an epidemic of addiction. But the epidemic of addiction doesn’t just show up. Addiction tends to show up with a history of trauma… not everyone who experiences trauma ends up with an addiction, but just about everyone with an addiction has a history of trauma,” Leeman said.

Though the exhibit only dedicates a small amount of space to prescription drug use, Peralta said pharmaceutical companies have responsibility for the drug crisis.

“If you know there is something wrong with your product, you should fix it,” he said.

Leeman said “arresting people and prolonged incarceration do not resolve the problem,” either.

Leeman said despite the belief of some that incarceration is a viable option for treating addiction, it does not. Rather it can be a “finishing school” for addiction instead.

Peralta echoed these thoughts and said that rehabilitation and treatment are the best two options for ending addiction. 

Leeman said that there are known ways to address the problem. 

“The primary prevention of addiction is preventing childhood trauma including sexual abuse,” he said. Primary prevention refers to actions aimed at avoiding the manifestation of a disease. 

Secondary prevention involves detecting a disease early or trying to keep it from getting worse. 

“(Secondary prevention) is actually addressing people who have risk factors and when exposed to opioids have a higher chance of developing an addiction —  that’s things like limiting overprescribing,” Leeman said.  

And for people who already have substance use disorders, Leeman said, “we think of things like medication-assisted treatment — having them on Buprenorphine or Methadone and in some cases having supervised withdrawal.” For overdoses, it’s Naloxone and having the availability of that medicine that reverses the effects of opioids.

Lissa Knudsen is a beat reporter for the Daily Lobo and can be contacted on twitter @lissaknudsen or through news@dailylobo.com