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NM drops from 2nd to 8th in drug overdose deaths

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico ranked eighth in the U.S. in the rate of drug overdose deaths in 2015 – down from second in 2014 – both because of a drop in the number of deaths here and because of significant increases in other states.

Both the rate and the number of drug overdose deaths in New Mexico declined in 2015, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Meanwhile, the nationwide tally of drug overdose deaths worsened in 2015, driven primarily by an epidemic use of narcotic painkillers, the CDC said in a new report. Overdose death rates rose in 19 states, all but two east of the Mississippi River.

Nationwide, heroin and narcotic painkillers killed 33,091 people in 2015, or three times the number in 1999.

State health officials have credited New Mexico's drop to the growing availability of naloxone – a drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose – and tighter federal regulation of hydrocodone, a widely prescribed narcotic painkiller.

The state's overdose deaths decreased by more than 8 percent in 2015, falling from a record-high 547 deaths in 2014 to 501 last year, according to CDC data.

The rate of overdose deaths dropped to 25.3 per 100,000 population in 2015, down from 27.3 per 100,000 in 2014.

New Mexico's 2015 overdose death rate places the state in eighth place, behind West Virginia, New Hampshire, Kentucky, Ohio, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, the CDC reported.

In 2014, New Mexico ranked second only to West Virginia in the rate of drug overdose deaths.

New Mexico Department of Health officials have cited a federal action in October 2014 that upgraded hydrocodone to a Schedule II drug, up from Schedule III, as a key factor in the 2015 decline.

The move prohibited health care providers from prescribing hydrocodone with multiple refills. Patients instead must visit a doctor to obtain a new prescription.

State officials also have worked for years to increase access to naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan.

Gov. Susana Martinez signed a bill into law in March that expanded access to naloxone by making it readily available to opioid users as well as to their families, friends, community groups and programs. A second law that takes effect Sunday requires all practitioners to check the state's prescription drug monitoring program database before prescribing narcotic painkillers.

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