New Mexico has the unhappy distinction of experiencing the nation’s third-highest rate of alcohol-related deaths per capita.

Project ECHO at The University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center has launched an initiative to reduce alcohol-related harm and associated conditions across the state.

“Problematic use of alcohol can cause considerable harm to physical, mental and social well-being, with well-known repercussions to future generations,” said Jasen Christensen, DO, associate professor in the UNM Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences.

“Treating problematic alcohol use can be challenging, and it’s hard to keep up on the recent evidence and the changing landscape of local treatment options,” he said in a press release announcing the initiative.

Leveraging Project ECHO’s revolutionary guided-practice tele-mentoring model, Christensen and his team will build a statewide community of health care providers who will share evidence-supported approaches to treatment.

The New Mexico Alcohol Use and Mental Health ECHO program, launched July 19, meets twice a month with participants learning through multidisciplinary lectures and facilitated discussion of anonymized cases.

“Our aim is to make it easier for health care providers in New Mexico to engage people in treatment, keep them in treatment and reduce alcohol-related harm,” Christensen said. Some of the conditions associated with alcohol use include liver disease, heart disease, depression and anxiety disorders.

“The New Mexico Alcohol Use and Mental Health ECHO program will address an urgent need, said Sanjeev Arora, MD, founder and director of Project ECHO. “It has the potential to improve the lives of tens of thousands of New Mexicans by bringing best practices in early diagnosis and treatment to every corner of our state.”

The program brings together UNM experts in psychology, addiction medicine, internal medicine and psychiatry.

Discussion topics include causes, effective screening, treatment of harmful alcohol use, and identifying and treating co-occurring medical and psychiatric problems. It is available to New Mexican health care workers of all disciplines, and participants will receive training, technical assistance and mentorship at no cost.

Founded in 2003, Project ECHO is a global nonprofit that empowers practitioners and professionals in rural and underserved areas to reduce disparities and improve the well-being of people in the communities where they live. ECHO’s free, virtual mentoring model addresses some of the world’s greatest challenges in health care, education and more, with a mission to touch 1 billion lives by 2025.