Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal
More New Mexicans died last year of drug overdoses than in any other year on record.
The 536 deaths in 2014 mark a 19 percent increase over the year before, following a two-year decline, according to the state Department of Health.
That number shows the state needs to step up efforts to curb addiction, including better monitoring of prescription painkillers, according to state Epidemiologist Dr. Michael Landen.
He said New Mexico also needs to expand the use of naloxone, a prescription drug that can counteract a drug overdose, by making it more widely available to law enforcement officers and the public. Far more New Mexicans could have died last year without naxalone, which was used successfully in over 900 cases.
New Mexico led the nation for years in drug overdose deaths per capita, Landen said, but West Virginia has occupied the No. 1 spot in recent years.
New Mexico’s deaths per capita were 26.4 per 100,000 last year.
In 2013, 449 New Mexicans died of overdoses, according to the Department of Health. Per capita, that was 21.8 deaths per 100,000.
Prescription opioids – narcotic painkillers such as hydrocodone and oxycodone – remained the leading cause of overdose deaths in 2014, accounting for nearly half the total.
Back-to-back declines in overdose deaths in 2012 and 2013 may have led to complacency about the problem, Landen said.
“There was a lot of focus for a couple of years, and I just think some of the focus has waned,” he said. “We now need to redouble our efforts.”
The state’s drug overdose death rate declined 16 percent from 2011 to 2013, which Landen attributed to initiatives such as the prescription drug monitoring program. The program allows doctors, nurses, dentists and other practitioners authorized to prescribe opioids to view a patient’s use of controlled substances by visiting a website.
A 2012 law expanded the program, requiring state licensing boards to formulate rules requiring practitioners to check the database before prescribing opioids for certain patients.
State law requires the licensing boards for seven medical professions to issue regulations for managing chronic pain with the use of controlled substances, Landen said.
As a result, the state has a patchwork of rules governing when practitioners must check the state database, he said. The seven licensing boards are medical, osteopathic, nursing, dental, podiatry, optometry and midwifery.
Use of the database has increased. In 2014, prescribers checked the records of 56 percent of patients who received a three-month supply or more of opioid painkillers, up from 50 percent in 2013.
The increase is encouraging, Landen said, but Department of Health officials would like providers to consult the database every time they prescribe a three-month supply of narcotic painkillers.
“We should be working toward 100 percent,” he said. “The prescription monitoring program is a great tool for dealing with high-risk prescribing and reducing drug-overdose deaths.”
Meanwhile, naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, was used to reverse more than 900 opioid overdoses in 2014, a 29 percent increase from 2013, the New Mexico Department of Health reported.
The Department of Health advocates increased use of naloxone. The agency distributed 5,874 doses of the drug in 2014, up 55 percent from 2013.
Earlier this year, all Santa Fe County deputies and some New Mexico State Police officers were trained how to use naloxone and began carrying it in their patrol cars. Landen said all New Mexico law enforcement officers should be trained to use the drug.
Naloxone also became available last year in some New Mexico pharmacies.
“Only 10 percent of our pharmacies stock naloxone,” Landen said. “We can increase that. We can do a better job of making naloxone available to anybody who is at risk of an opioid overdose.”