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Drug overdose deaths decline in New Mexico

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Drug overdose deaths in New Mexico declined for a second consecutive year in 2013, though rates here remain among the highest in the nation, according to most recent national data.

State health officials attribute the two-year drop in overdose deaths to a statewide system that tightened up prescriptions for controlled drugs.

“It’s significant that we’ve had a drop over a two-year period,” said Michael Landen, the state’s epidemiologist.

The number of drug overdose deaths in New Mexico dropped from 521 in 2011 to 449 in 2013.

The rate of drug overdose deaths dropped by 16 percent in two years, from 25.9 per 100,000 population in 2011 to 21.8 in 2013.

The U.S. rate of drug overdose deaths was 13.2 per 100,000 in 2011, the most recent year for which nationwide data are available.

New Mexico ranked second to West Virginia in the rate of overdose deaths per capita that year.

Landen credited the two-year decline in overdose deaths to statewide changes in the way prescription painkillers are dispensed.

In 2012, the state created a Web-based system that provides doctors with instant information about a patient’s use of prescription opioids, which are powerful pain relievers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, Landen said.

“Some people get opioid prescriptions from multiple physicians and multiple pharmacies, and overdose death is associated with that habit,” Landen said.

The online system, called the prescription monitoring program, makes it harder for drug abusers to obtain prescriptions from multiple sources, he said.

The total number of opioids per patient prescribed in New Mexico decreased by 19 percent from 2010 to 2013, according to a state Department of Health report issued last month.

In addition, a 2012 amendment to state law required any health care provider with authority to prescribe controlled substances to register with the prescription monitoring program, allowing providers to access the Web-based system, Landen said.

“All these things have led to improved prescribing of controlled substances – specifically, opioids,” he said.

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