New Mexico State Announces Drop In Illicit Drug Deaths

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Illicit Drug Deaths

New Mexico is making strides in reducing the rate of people dying from unintentional illicit drug overdoses, a rate that decreased 8 percent from 2005 to 2006.

From 2005 to 2006, the number of deaths caused by heroin dropped 21 percent, and deaths caused by cocaine and methamphetamine stayed the same.

"We are encouraged that our illicit drug overdose rates have declined, but we must remain vigilant in ensuring people have access to treatment and harm reduction programs that work to keep drug users safe," said Health Secretary Dr. Alfredo Vigil.

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From 2005 to 2006, there was a 25 percent increase in unintentional prescription drug deaths in New Mexico, including a 30 percent increase in methadone deaths, 14 percent increase in deaths caused by other opioids and an 18 percent decrease in anti-depressant deaths.

To combat a rise in prescription drug deaths, the University of New Mexico and Department of Health have expanded Project ECHO, which uses a telemedicine model to teach rural primary-care providers how to treat complex, common diseases. The program started with treatment of hepatitis and expanded this year to increase access to substance abuse treatment by training more than 80 providers in the state how to treat opiate addictions with buprenorphine.

People who receive buprenorphine are unlikely to overdose on the drug and avoid drug withdrawal symptoms. It is prescribed in office settings and does not require recovering addicts to go to a clinic daily for a dose, according to Dr. Miriam Komaromy, the Department of Health's medical director of the treatment facility, Turquoise Lodge, and medical director of UNM's Project ECHO Substance Use.

"The problem of opiate overdoses is a scourge on every community in the United States, and it's not going to go away unless we focus on prevention and improving access to treatment, Dr. Komaromy said. "Project ECHO is one way we can provide rural patients across the state with treatment in their After taking an eight-hour training in treating addictions with buprenorphine, doctors present cases during weekly teleconferences and get feedback on how best to care for their patients. Providers are also trained in helping patients to connect with individual and group counseling to support their recovery, as this is a critical part in any addiction treatment.

"We greatly value our collaboration with the New Mexico Department of Health and plan to move this program to a new level by focusing on preventing substance abuse in high risk populations," said Dr. Sanjeev Arora, director of Project ECHO and acting chairman of the Department of Medicine at UNM's Health Sciences Center. "We know that the best way to tackle the problem of substance abuse is to prevent it with better education, counseling and support."

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