New Mexico elected officials assembled at City Hall on Oct. 27 to send a unified message: the state’s opioid crisis must end. The meeting was part of Project OPEN, which stands for Opioid Prevention and Education Network.
“It’s a national training, but it’s geared to bring leaders together, community activists, all stake holders,” said New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas. “We need to better communicate and strategize around prevention. We need to improve education.”
The workshop consisted of presentations and panel discussions, with a training session on how to administer the opioid antidote Naloxone. New Mexico was the first U.S. state to require law enforcement agencies to equip officers with Narcan antidote kits to prevent further deaths from opium overdoses.
“[Officers must] carry Narcan on their person, so when they encounter a situation where an overdose is currently occurring they can actually apply it and save that person’s life,” said Sen. Michael Padilla.
“We’ve already seen about four to six hundred lives saved as a result and this only went into effect as of July first.”
Local officials who attended the workshop included Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima, District Attorney Mark D’Antonio and Doña Ana County Sheriff Enrique “Kiki” Vigil, among others.
Project OPEN is just one of the tools to fight the opioid epidemic. On Sept. 7, Balderas filed a lawsuit against big opioid producing pharmaceutical companies. “I’m bringing litigation against some of the largest drug distributors and manufacturers of opioids. I want to change the way business is done,” Balderas said.
The federal lawsuit alleges that generic drug-makers entered into illegal conspiracies in order to unreasonably restrain trade, artificially inflate and manipulate prices and reduce competition in the United States for two generic drugs. “The manufacturing companies pushed highly addictive, dangerous opioids, falsely representing to doctors that patients would only rarely succumb to drug addiction, while the distributors breached their legal duties to monitor, detect, investigate, refuse and report suspicious orders of prescription opioids,” the lawsuit alleges.
According to the New Mexico Department of Health, in 2015 New Mexico had the eighth highest drug overdose rate in the nation, with Rio Arriba County having the highest drug overdose rate from 2011 to 2015.
“It’s incredibly important that we support the Attorney General’s effort to bring education on opioid abuse to all parts of the state of New Mexico,” Padilla said. “We have a lot of resources across the state, but this actually allows local communities to understand what all the resources are that are available to them.”
On March 4, 2016, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez signed an opioid overdose prevention bill. The bill passed the New Mexico State Legislature unanimously.
“I’m bringing litigation against some of the largest drug distributors and manufacturers of opioids. I want to change the way business is done.”
Before House Bill 277 was signed into law, it was illegal to possess naloxone without a prescription. The goal of the new law is to make it easier for first responders and treatment program providers to distribute the antidote.
According to data from the New Mexico Department of Health, in 2013 opioids accounted for 54 percent of all controlled substance prescriptions filled. And since 2008, New Mexico has had one of the highest drug overdose death rates in the U.S. More than 500 New Mexicans die each year from a drug overdose. Around 70 percent of those deaths result from either opioid pain relievers or heroin overdoses.
On Oct. 26, President Donald Trump instructed the Department of Health and Human Services to declare the opioid crises a public health emergency.
According to the CDC, opioid-involved deaths in the United States continue to rise. More than six out of 10 overdoses are from an opioid. The number of overdose deaths involving opioids has quadrupled since 1999. From 2000 to 2015, more than half a million people died from drug overdoses and 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.
This article is part of a series titled The Opioid Epidemic in America. To read other stories in the series, click on the links below:
Collegiate athletes especially vulnerable to opioid addiction
A small town of 10,000 struggles with the opioid crisis
In New Mexico, opioid addiction does not discriminate
Police, firefighters get certified to use Narcan