FARMINGTON – New Mexico saw improvements in drug overdose prevention measures in the past year, the state’s Department of Health announced this week.
The state uses three main strategies to combat prescription drug overdoses, according to the Department of Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel. She said the methods are focused on improved prescribing practices, increased treatment for drug dependence availability and providing Naloxone.
Naloxone, also known as Narcan, is used to reverse an opioid overdose, and the state said it distributed more than 15,000 prescriptions in the second quarter of this year, an increase of 84% from the same quarter last year. The state also saw pharmacy prescriptions for the drug paid by Medicaid increase by 118%, more than double 2018’s prescriptions.
The increase is in large part the result of a state law passed in the spring requiring physicians to educate patients about overdose preventions and prescribe Naloxone whenever an opioid is prescribed, said state epidemiologist Michael Landen.
Another measure the state has begun tracking fairly recently is the number of new patients prescribed an opioid in the last 30 days, Landen said. “It’s particularly important because this is where a new group is likely to become addicted to opioids,” he said.
The state saw a 25% decrease in new opioid prescriptions. Landen said there has been a renewed emphasis on efforts to educate patients and health care providers about the dangers of opioid dependence and alternative measures to prescribing the drug.
The statewide measures are seen on the local scale, too. In 2012, San Juan Regional Medical Center started a program to identify people demonstrating risky behavior with controlled substances before they might possibly become addicted to an opioid, according to Dr. Brett Ziercher, an emergency department physician with the medical center.
The program consists of a multi-specialty committee of physicians, nurses, social workers and other personnel from the hospital that meets regularly to review referrals from staff, community organizations or medical records that show possible warning signs. “We try to look at it in a way that doesn’t penalize people but to look at trends that might show opioid predictive behaviors,” Ziercher said.
The committee will then work to connect anyone accepted into the program to additional hospital or available community resources the patient may not be aware of, Ziercher said.
An integrated community approach is key to decreasing opioid overdoses, said Amanda Evans, community programs manager with the San Juan County Partnership. Evans said they started bringing a group of individuals together about seven months ago to brainstorm how the community can make a difference in preventing opioid-related deaths and decreasing dependency.
“The community has really rallied around this issue and really wants to make a change,” Evans said.
While the committee is in the early stages of planning and working to secure more funding, it is focusing on educating the public, most recently, on how to access Naloxone and how to use it. The committee is also hoping to hold a summit on opioid use and abuse in the Four Corners.
Evans said part of the mission of the monthly meetings is to educate people about the number of community resources available to people struggling with opioid dependency or family members. She said people are often unaware of the resources available, and this knowledge could help many in the community.
“One death is too many,” Evans said