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New DEA program launches in Albuquerque

Executive Vice Chancellor Richard Larson of the UNM Health Sciences Center, answered questions at the launch of the DEA’s 360 Strategy, an innovative approach to hep cities deal with heroin and prescription drug epidemic and associated crime at a press conference at the Boys and Girls Club of New Mexico on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque on Wednesday became the seventh city in the country take part in a new U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency program aimed at building more collaboration to fight prescription drug and opioid abuse.

The DEA’s “360 Strategy” combines traditional law enforcement crime fighting practices with educating healthcare providers about proper prescribing practices and drug education, prevention and treatment strategies.

The DEA, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, drug prevention advocacy organizations and others are involved in the effort.

“I wouldn’t say the approach has changed. We’re trying to emphasize more of the community outreach,” Sean Waite, the assistant special agent in charge of the DEA in New Mexico, said. “We’re trying to expand that outreach outside of what we normally think of with law enforcement.”

Officials estimate that as many as 80 percent of new heroin users first used prescription pain killers. UNM Health Sciences Center officials said they’ve been working around the state to try to educate providers about issues with prescription narcotics.

“You need to be able to manage a patient’s pain and only prescribe a narcotic when it’s appropriate for short-term narcotic use, said UNM Health Sciences Executive Vice Chancellor Richard Larson. “Many prescribers feel uncomfortable either with prescribing when it’s needed or not prescribing. It’s a challenging problem.”

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