Through a partnership with the state Department of Health, the Santa Fe Indian Center is offering training this week to address one of New Mexico’s most daunting health problems: the scourge of opiate abuse.

Opioid addiction and overdoses have hit the Native American population particularly hard. Nationally, American Indians and Alaska Natives have experienced the highest increases in opioid-related overdose deaths compared to other groups, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A study the agency published in December, analyzing Native populations in Washington state, indicated that because of misclassification of race in some death certificates, the overdose rate among Natives may have been greatly underestimated.

The nonprofit Santa Fe Indian Center, which serves the local Native community, will host a free training session Wednesday evening on the use of naloxone, a medication that can quickly block an opioid overdose. Participants will be taught how to administer the medication and how to perform rescue breathing techniques.

“This is something totally new,” center Director Caren Gala said.

A grant from the New Mexico Department of Health will fund Wednesday’s training as well as another training session in the fall on another health issue, possibly diabetes, Gala said.

The naloxone training is free and open to those with opioid use disorder, their family members and other loved ones — and anyone else who wants to learn how to save a life.

Naloxone, sold under the brand name Narcan, works by binding to opioid receptors, blocking the effects of opioids and rapidly restoring normal breathing during an overdose of heroin or opioid-based prescription painkillers, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

It can be injected and also comes in a nasal spray.

Naloxone has been made available for free at certain pharmacies in New Mexico, and it is provided to law enforcement officers and paramedics, according to Health Department spokesman David Morgan.

Properly dispensing the drug does require a little training, he said, “but with that training has come the saving of lives throughout New Mexico.”

In 2012, New Mexico had the second-highest drug overdose rate in the nation, according to Morgan. By 2017, New Mexico ranked 17th, he said.

“So we’re moving in the right direction to be able to combat drug overdoses, but obviously there’s a lot more work that needs to be done,” Morgan said. “One of the ways has been through greater distribution of naloxone across the state.”