“There is an epidemic of heroin and prescription drug abuse that threatens an entire generation of New Mexicans,” U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez said after the documentary was shown to reporters and health professionals.
Martinez said there were 547 drug overdose deaths in New Mexico in 2014 giving the state one of the highest overdose death rates in the country at 25.4 per 100,000 persons. The national rate was 13.8 per 100,000 persons.
The number of drug overdose deaths nationally now exceeds the number of people killed in car accidents according to federal reports.
“There were 47,000 overdose deaths nationwide,” said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Sean R. Waite, DEA Albuquerque District Office. “That’s like eliminating a city the size of Farmington every year.”
The unveiling of the profanity-laced documentary “Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opiate Addict” coincides with actions from other federal agencies.
The Food and Drug Administration plans to convene an outside advisory committee to seek advice before approving any new opioid medication that does not have “abuse-deterrent” properties that make it more difficult to crush, break or dissolve the pills that make it easier for addicts to abuse the drugs.
The FDA also promised it will strengthen follow-up studies to provide more insight about the safety and effectiveness of opioids’ long-term use and, in an effort to curb over-prescribing, will aim to increase the number of doctors who receive training about them.
The Centers for Disease Control also is expected to issue permanent guidelines on the use of opioid medications to control pain and make prescription opioids a drug of last resort to control pain.
Dr. Joanna G. Katzman, director of the UNM Pain Center said that naxalone, a drug used to revive people from heroin and opioid drug overdoses, should be prescribed to people receiving opioid pain medications.
“It sends a message, this is medicine that can kill you,” she said.
As in most discussions of the state’s drug problem, the lack of treatment facilities and programs remains a key issue. The UNM Pain Center, for instance, has a six-month waiting list.
Bernalillo County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins said the county is still working on a plan on how to spend money from a controversial three-sixteenth of 1 percent increase in the county’s gross receipts tax that started last July and is expected to produce $30 million a year.
Commissioners have promised that $20 million of that tax increase would be dedicated to improving behavioral health programs within the county.
The county, UNM Health Sciences and the U.S. Attorney’s Office are partners in the Project HOPE initiative to combat drug abuse.
The documentary was co-produced by the FBI and DEA. A version in which the profanity is muted is available at the FBI website – fbi.gov/news/stories/2016/february/raising-awareness-of-opioid-addiction.