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NM Opioid Crisis Gets National Spotlight

New Mexico is making progress but still ranks in the top 10 U.S. states for numbers of fatal opioid overdoses. (Pixabay)
New Mexico is making progress but still ranks in the top 10 U.S. states for numbers of fatal opioid overdoses. (Pixabay)
August 9, 2017

SANTA FE, N.M. - The opioid addiction problems New Mexico has battled for years finally are getting some attention from the White House. President Trump was briefed on the issue Tuesday after a drug commission he appointed urgently recommended that he declare the opioid crisis a national emergency.

Three years ago, New Mexico had the nation's second-highest death rate from opioid overdoses. David Morgan, Southwest public information officer for the state Health Department, said that number has improved, but New Mexico still ranks eighth in the nation.

"We recognize that we are making progress here in New Mexico, but we also recognize that there is just so much more work to be done," he said. "We are still in the top 10 of having the highest overdose death rate for opioids in the country."

Trump on Tuesday said the best way to curb addiction and overdose is prevention, and suggested tougher prosecution and longer sentences for drug offenders, although research has said those approaches have not proved to be as effective as addiction treatment. Drug overdose is the leading cause of injury death in New Mexico and nationally, now exceeding traffic accidents and falls.

The number of opioid prescriptions declined statewide by five percent in the first quarter of 2017 compared with the previous year. The Health Department has said it's in part because a new law requires health-care providers to check a patient's prescription history, to prevent "doctor shopping" for drugs. Nonetheless, Morgan said, a public-health crisis continues in pockets of the state.

"For Bernalillo and Sante Fe counties, which are among the most highly populated counties in New Mexico," he said, "there is a high rate because there is a sense of greater access to acquire opioids, whether you're doing it through legal or illegal means."

If a national emergency is declared, federal rules that restrict where Medicaid recipients can receive addiction treatment could be waived and Congress might provide more funding. There's no timeline for making that decision.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM