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Twenty New Mexico counties saw a reduction in drug overdose deaths in 2015, according to the New Mexico Department of Health.
But Quay County was not among them. The Tucumcari area saw an increase, from two in 2014, to five in 2015, DOH reported.
In a press release last week, NMDOH said New Mexico collectively saw a 9 percent decrease in overdose deaths for 2015 with 493 deaths. That followed a record high of 540 deaths in 2014 — the second highest drug overdose death rate in the nation that year.
NMDOH Secretary Designate Lynn Gallagher said in the press release, “We are working hard to reduce overdose deaths in New Mexico. The recent decrease shows we’re making progress, but we still have a lot more work to do.”
Curry County’s data shows only a slight change from eight drug overdose deaths in 2014 to seven in 2015.
Roosevelt and Quay counties were among 13 counties in the state to remain the same or see an increase in overdose deaths.
Roosevelt went from two in 2014 to three in 2015.
NMDOH State Epidemiologist Dr. Michael Landen said the overdose death rates reflect a larger drug issue.
“In New Mexico, drug overdose deaths used to be focused in the northern part of the state,” Landen said. “What we’ve seen more recently is it’s increasingly a statewide problem.”
Landen said the majority of overdose deaths in eastern New Mexico result from prescription opioids and methamphetamine.
However, a 2014 regulation under the Drug Enforcement Administration is what Landen believes was the main reason for the recent decline in drug overdoses. Hydrocodone, the most prescribed opioid in the U.S. according to the Food and Drug Administration, was reclassified from a Schedule III drug to a Schedule II drug, meaning it has a high potential for abuse and its prescription cannot be refilled.
“This rescheduling reduced the number of drug overdose deaths statewide,” Landen said, “so that was a big change that impacted New Mexico in 2015 and the nation.”
Landen said the challenge now is “to drop the number of deaths and worry about getting them even lower.”
“It’s important for us doctors to treat chronic pain appropriately and not dangerously,” Landen said. “It’s important ... that we treat pain more carefully and that we work to assure we’re not increasing the number of people addicted to opioids we’re prescribing.”
Landen said recent legislation will likely continue to decrease the overdose deaths this year.
Gov. Susana Martinez in March signed Senate Bill 263, requiring practitioners to check patients’ prescription history in the Prescription Monitoring Program when prescribing opioids.
Martinez also signed House Bill 277 and Senate Bill 262, both of which expand availability of naloxone — a medication used to reverse opioid overdoses.
“These are two very important laws passed,” Landen said, “which should be seen in our 2016 data. We know from other states that passed similar laws that it had an important effect.”
— Senior Writer Thomas Garcia contributed to this report