Heroin Is Serious Concern In New Mexico

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Health Secretary Alfredo Vigil, MD, said the most recent drug overdose data shows that the heroin problem continues to be a serious concern in New Mexico. The New Mexico Department of Health analyzed the last decade of drug overdoses due to heroin and found that the rates have fluctuated but remained relatively steady. There was a rise in heroin-related overdoses in 2008, similar to the rate in 1998.

The rate of total unintentional drug overdose deaths was 17.5 deaths per 100,000 people in 2007 and 19.6 deaths per 100,000 in 2008, according to New Mexico Office of Medical Investigator data that the Department of Health analyzed. The increase in drug overdoses was predominately due to heroin deaths. Prescription drug deaths held steady during this time, compared to a considerable increase the previous year.

“Too many New Mexicans are dying of drug overdoses, a last step in a long chain of events for people who use drugs,” Dr. Vigil said. “We must determine how we can create better interventions at earlier steps, including identifying adolescents at risk through our school based health centers and community programs.”

The Department is a member of the New Mexico Behavioral Health Collaborative, a multi-agency effort to improve mental health and substance abuse services in New Mexico. The Department provides a needle-free form of Narcan, a prescription drug that reverses a heroin overdose. Narcan is available in a nasal spray to people who use drugs and their friends and families. The Harm Reduction Program has trained more than 5,100 people on how to use Narcan. Eighteen facilities train people in multiple sites across New Mexico, and the Department continues to expand the program.

The Department’s Turquoise Lodge in Albuquerque and Yucca Lodge in Grant County provide treatment for people with addictions. The Department offers methadone and buprenorphine to help people who are addicted to heroin or narcotic medications.

“It is reasonable to believe our rates would be worse if we didn’t have programs in place that prevent overdoses and provide substance abuse treatment and prevention to people who need it,” Dr. Vigil said. “Programs like buprenorphine can keep people functional so they can reverse the poverty cycle that tends to lead to substance abuse.”

While prescription drug deaths were stable from 2007 to 2008, the rate is still high. Across the country, there has been a rise in the number of pain killers being prescribed and used, which has


also led to an increase in prescription drug overdoses. “This increases the possibility that teenagers will experiment with drugs found in their medicine cabinet at home and also raises the issue of how we educate society about using those drugs safely,” Dr. Vigil said.

The Department of Health is conducting a study in collaboration with the Office of Medical Investigator, Board of Pharmacy and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to identify factors that lead to drug overdose death among people who have been prescribed controlled substances.

Overdose death data from 2007 to 2008 (all rates are per 100,000 people and none of the changes were statistically significant):

* Overdose deaths from prescription drugs remained relatively stable, from 11.1 in 2007 to 10.8 in 2008.

* Deaths from any illicit drug slightly increased from 10.1 in 2007 to 10.8 in 2008.

* Heroin overdoses increased from 5.4 in 2007 to 7.4 in 2008.

* Cocaine overdoses dropped from 5.8 in 2007 to 5.0 in 2008 and methadone deaths decreased from 2.9 to 2.6.

* Death rates from opioids other than methadone increased from 6.7 in 2007 to 7.2 in 2008, tranquilizers/muscle relaxants death rates increased from 4.4 to 5.0 and antidepressants increased from 2.8 to 2.9.

* Methamphetamine overdoses decreased from 1.7 in 2007 to 1.1 in 2008.