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Legislation targets opioid abuse in NM

Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – New Mexico could add to its arsenal for the ongoing battle against drug overdose deaths with legislation awaiting action by Gov. Susana Martinez.

Sought by the state Department of Health, the bills would make an overdose reversal drug more widely available and would standardize the practice of checking patients’ prescription histories before prescribing opiates.

New Mexico has one of the highest drug overdose death rates in the nation. In 2014, drug overdoses killed 536 people, up 20 percent from the previous year.

And more than half of the drug overdose deaths since 2010 have been from prescription drugs, with opioids accounting for most of them, according to the DOH.

New Mexico has historically had a big problem with heroin overdoses. But the landscape changed about eight years ago, as deaths from prescription drug overdoses began piling up, said state epidemiologist Dr. Michael Landen .

“The epidemic has shifted to prescription opioids. … We have a new population we have to reach with naloxone,” Landen told the Journal.

Naloxone – sold under brand names including Narcan – is an opioid antagonist that reverses overdoses.

It’s fast-acting, safe and easy to administer, either by injection or in a nasal spray, and has been used for decades in medical settings.

New Mexico was in the forefront of distributing naloxone more broadly for heroin overdoses, in conjunction with needle exchange programs and other measures.

The DOH, which has been working to increase the drug’s availability, says it dispensed 5,874 doses in 2014 – up 55 percent from the previous year.

In 2014, the latest year for which data is available, more than 900 opioid overdoses were reported reversed – nearly a 29 percent increase from the previous year.

But it’s time to add new strategies, the department says.

House Bill 277 and the identical Senate Bill 262 – which passed the Legislature during the recent session – make naloxone more broadly available.

Although pharmacists are already allowed by law to prescribe and dispense naloxone, barely one-fourth of pharmacies do that, according to Landen.

The legislation would pave the way for standing orders in pharmacies to allow opioid users – and their families, friends or others who could help in the event of an overdose – to get naloxone and keep it on hand. Community-based prevention programs and other facilities – homeless shelters, for example – could do the same.

The legislation also immunizes those who administer naloxone from civil liability or criminal prosecution.

Senate Bill 263 requires doctors and other practitioners who prescribe pain medication to check the state’s prescription monitoring program, or PMP, before prescribing an opioid to some patients for the first time. That’s to see if they’ve gotten opioids elsewhere.

The PMP would also have to be checked every three months for patients who continuously get opioids.

“Bills like this in other states have reduced ‘doctor shopping’ significantly,” Landen said.

Currently, the PMP is underused, according to DOH. And the various boards that regulate prescribers each have their own set of regulations for treating chronic pain, according to Landen. Senate Bill 263 puts the requirement to check the PMP into law and sets a minimum standard.