ALBUQUERQUE ― Attorney General Hector Balderas sent a letter late Monday to congressional leaders, urging them to repeal a 2016 federal law so registered drug manufacturers and distributors who have willfully contributed to the nation’s oversupply of pain killers (opioids), can be held accountable.
The “Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2016” (P.L. 114-145) has severely limited the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) response to the opioid crisis. On average, over 500 New Mexicans die annually of a drug overdose, and approximately 70% of those deaths resulted from either opioid pain relievers or heroin. In more than a third of NM counties, over 80% of every 100 citizens has a prescription for opioids.
“New Mexico is in a state of emergency due to the opioid crisis that is ravaging our families, law enforcement agencies, healthcare system and economy,” Balderas said. “I’m urging Congress to join our fight in New Mexico by repealing this absurd law that handcuffs the DEA and allows opioid manufacturers and distributors to fuel their addiction to profits as they flood the market with an oversupply of opioids. Earlier this year, I filed lawsuits against the opioid manufacturers and distributors, and launched Project OPEN: Opioid Prevention & Education Network as part of a multipronged attack on the opioid crisis in New Mexico.”
“In the midst of this deepening public health crisis – at a time when our nation needs every available weapon at its disposal to combat the opioid epidemic, the Act effectively strips the Drug Enforcement Administration of a mission critical tool, namely, the ability to issue an immediate suspension order against a drug manufacturer or distributor whose unlawful conduct poses an immediate danger to public health or safety,” reads the National Association of Attorneys General letter sent late yesterday to U.S. Senate and House of Representative leaders and signed by 44 attorneys general in the states, District of Columbia and Virgin Islands. “We urge you to repeal the Act so that the public is protected and drug manufacturers and distributors may be held accountable for their actions.”
While deaths in New Mexico due to illicit drugs have remained steady during the past 10 years, deaths due to prescription drugs – particularly opioid pain relievers – have increased dramatically, nearly doubling between 2000 and 2014. New Mexico’s death rate from drug overdose grew in lockstep with the increasing sale and distribution of opioid drugs by the manufacturers and wholesale distributors. The New Mexico Department of Health estimates that in 2007 alone prescription opioid abuse and misuse cost the State of New Mexico $890 million for items such as excess medical and prescription costs, lost earnings from premature deaths and costs associated with correctional facilities and police services.
In Rio Arriba County and Mora County, overdose death rates were more than five times the national rate. Also in Rio Arriba County, 64 out of every 1000 babies born are addicted to opioids which is 10 times the national average.