New Mexico on Opioids

Column by Rep. Jim Hall

On May 1, I was one of about 20 legislators — representing both parties and both chambers — selected to attend a conference on opioid drug (e.g., oxycodone, Vicodin, Percocet, hydrocodone) misuse in New Mexico.  

Medical professionals and senior state officials also attended. Two quotes from the conference demand our attention. 

  • New Mexico leads the U.S. in deaths from drug overdoses, now exceeding deaths from motor vehicle crashes.”
  • “Unintentional overdose deaths from prescription opioid drugs have nearly tripled from 2000 to 2009 and now exceed overdose deaths from heroin and cocaine combined. New Mexico is a leader in nonmedical use of prescription opioids, especially in the 12-17 year old group.“

These two quotes are from a report on opioid drug abuse compiled by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy at UNM. The nation has experienced a dramatic increase in deaths and overdoses from abuse of opioid drugs and New Mexico has moved near the top of the chart in abuse of these drugs.  

We must take action to counter the danger to our citizens and especially our young people.

The conference was sponsored by our Legislature and the National Council of State Legislators (http://www.ncsl.org/). 

The NCSL is a non-partisan organization performing research on issues of national importance to state legislatures. 

The conference focused on three issues: (1) why this abuse is happening, (2) what actions are being taken by the medical community, and (3) what can adults do to reduce the risk, especially to children.

Briefly, the growth in opioid abuse coincides with changes in pain management practice, the availability of new opioid drugs, and an aging population.   

As a result, opioids are the most prescribed medications in the nation.  “Doctor shopping,” “pill mills,” poor control of medications by patients, and attractive profits from contraband opioids combine to make opioid drug abuse an epidemic.

The New Mexico medical community is addressing the issue with new systems and physician practice changes. 

Pharmacists in the state have implemented a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) designed to identify “doctor shoppers” and “pill mills.”

Medicare and Medicaid are now paying providers for “Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT)” services, and more providers are doing such screening as part of physicals and prescribing opioid medications in smaller doses for short term use.

What should patients, and, in particular, parents do? 

The most important action is to dispose of unused opioids or keep them locked up. 

Just as most teenagers begin drinking from an adult’s liquor cabinet, most teenagers begin their opioid use from an adult’s medicine cabinet.  

Opioid theft has become such a serious situation that some realtors are warning clients to secure their medications before an open house to prevent opioid theft by people simply going from one open house to another and raiding medicine cabinets. 

Adults should lock up or dispose of any opioids that may become available to others, especially teenagers.

One can expect further attention to the issue and legislation in the next legislative session.

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