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Editorial: N.M. right to respond to deadly Rx overdoses

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For those who have called New Mexico’s 2012 restrictions on prescription painkillers heavy handed, consider this:

• Female overdose deaths attributed to prescription painkillers have increased fivefold from 1999 to 2010, according to new numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That was 15,300 deaths in 2010.

• More men still fatally overdose on painkillers and other drugs – around 23,000 in 2010, the CDC says.

• In New Mexico more people fatally OD on prescription painkillers than heroin and cocaine; in fact, New Mexico leads the nation in prescription overdose deaths with 27 addicts dying for every 100,000 residents.

Given those stark life-and death statistics, it was decidedly not heavy handed for the New Mexico Medical Board to require prescribers to perform drug testing, rule out “doctor shopping” via the state Pharmacy Board’s prescription monitoring program, consult with pain experts as needed, and get continuing ed in pain management and painkiller abuse.

It is also important that the Drug Enforcement Agency is cracking down on pharmacies; this summer Walgreen Co., the nation’s largest drugstore chain, agreed to pay $80 million in civil penalties – the largest settlement in DEA history – to resolve allegations some of its Florida pharmacies violated federal rules on the distribution of prescription painkillers. That has sent an important message to pharmacies and pharmacists across the country, including in New Mexico.

The latest statistics show prescribers and pharmacists must continue to double-team prescription painkiller abuse; while it is important to ensure these medications are dispensed to address legitimate pain, it is also important to ensure they are not feeding deadly addictions.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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