According to the New Mexico Department of Health, prescription drugs cause 48% of unintentional drug overdose deaths, more than any other illicit drugs. Groups throughout the state are now hoping to combat that. The New Mexico Osteopathic Medical Association held a drug abuse summit in Las Cruces.
The Summit held included law enforcement, medical professionals, and community leaders trying to pool their resources to fight prescription drug abuse in the state. U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico Damon Martinez says it’s an epidemic.
“Some of the symptoms of what we’re looking at,” Martinez said. “Is where the second most violent state per capita in the nation, we have the highest burglary rate per capita in the nation, and unfortunately we have been on top of the scales since about 2011 for drug overdoses, heroin and or prescription drugs.”
One of the ways his office is hoping to do that is through the Heroin and Opioid Prevention and Education, or HOPE, program, which brings together both the justice department and the medical community.
“What we’re trying to do is take a comprehensive approach,” Martinez said. “Prevention and education, treatment, prosecution, re-entry, and strategic planning.”
Martinez said fighting the epidemic would take more than just prosecution.
Las Cruces Police Department Sergeant Joy Mickendrow, works with the D.A.R.E. program, which educates children on the dangers of drugs. She says a new curriculum focuses on more than just legal punishments.
“We’re now more based on making sure we’re teaching the kids healthy choices,” Mickendrow said. “Where I know in year’s past it was all about the drugs, and drugs prevention. And yes we do still have a lesson in particular to that, but we’ve expanded it where we look at bullying, we look at peer pressure, we look into potential lessons like prescription abuse, and what was going on here today.”
The Summit also looked at ways to prevent abuse using the drugs themselves. Ralph McClish, Executive Director of the New Mexico Osteopathic Medical Association said they need to encourage doctors to prescribe opioids that are harder to abuse.
“Most people take a normal opioid medication,” McClish said. “And they’ll smash it so they can snort it or inject it. But an abuse deterrent opioid prohibits someone from being able to smash the drug, burn it, or inject it, and it actually makes the drug inert because it has an agent in it that counters the effects of opioids.”
The abuse deterrent drugs cost about $3 more per pill then regular opioids, and are many times not covered by insurance. McClish says he is working with legislators to try and change that.
Also at the summit was Marisol Diaz, is the program manager for UP!, the Unified Prevention Coalition for a Drug Free Doña Ana County, she says it’s important for agencies to work together to make the most of limited resources.
“I think there is a lot of ways we can address an issue,” Diaz said. “However, working in silos doesn’t really create the kind of widespread effect that we are looking for, and so I think that’s what the coalition brings to the table. Being very intentionally strategic about partnering, knowing whose doing what in your community, how do we fit in together, how can we make the best of our resources, share those resources. And look for ways and opportunities to bring more funding for prevention, and direct service into our communities.”
Some tips that were stressed at the summit included always making sure your prescription drugs are in a secure location, and not being shared with family or friends. And making sure drugs being disposed of properly through things like drug take back days.