New Mexico has led the nation in drug overdose deaths for the past few decades. With rates around twice the national average, overdoses here account for more deaths than car accidents. But the state health department announced some good news this week: New Mexico’s overdose rate has dropped to the lowest level since 2009.
Overdoses in New Mexico fell 16 percent between 2011-2013. That’s the first time in over 20 years that overdoses have fallen two years in a row.
Around 2006, opioid painkillers surpassed heroin as the lead cause of drug related deaths. And Health Department officials say a making the overdose reversing drug naloxone widely available has helped stem the rate of fatal overdoses.
New Mexico Health Department epidemiologist Mike Landen says a statewide prescription-monitoring program has been able to keep people from getting opioid painkillers from multiple doctors, and to keep doctors from over-prescribing them.
“This must be done very carefully,” Landen said. “Many patients are being over-prescribed opioids, so we have room to reduce the overall amount. If a patient comes in with a sprained ankle they don’t need two months of prescription opioids. They just don’t.”
Landen said his department will be working with the New Mexico Board of Pharmacy to strengthen the opioid monitoring program. But he says it’s a very important balancing act to make sure the drugs also remain available for patients who need them.