Press Release  | 11/17/2011

New Report from CDC Shows New Mexico Leads Nation in Fatal Drug Overdoses, More than Two Times the National Average

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The Martinez Administration Must Act Quickly to Replace Department of Health’s Outgoing Harm Reduction Manager with Someone Who Can Respond to the Severity of the Epidemic with Concrete Lifesaving Solutions

New Manager Must Ensure Access to the Overdose-reversal Drug Naloxone to all New Mexicans, Including Those Leaving Jail and Prison

(Santa Fe) – A newly issued report on drug overdose deaths in the United States from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found New Mexico to have the highest overall overdose death rate of any state. New Mexico suffered 27 overdose deaths per 100,000 people, more than two times the national average.  Since 1991, the overdose death rate has increased 242%.

With the impending departure of Dominick Zurlo, Department of Health's Harm Reduction Program Manager who oversees the state's Naloxone program, advocates are concerned about the state's ability to respond quickly and effectively to this overdose epidemic in the absence of experienced harm reduction staff. Zurlo announced his resignation early this month.

"Time is not on our side -- lives are at risk," said Emily Kaltenbach, Director of the Drug Policy Alliance's New Mexico office. "The Martinez Administration must respond to the CDC report with immediate solutions and quickly hire Zurlo's replacement. New Mexico needs an experienced professional who will ensure all New Mexican's have access to the lifesaving overdose reversal drug Naloxone."

One inexpensive, common-sense response to fatal overdoses is the overdose reversing drug Naloxone, also known as Narcan.   This safe and relatively inexpensive drug has been used widely by hospital emergency department and first responders for more than 30 years.  The New Mexico Department of Health oversees distribution of Naloxone through its Harm Reduction Program, providing overdose education and Naloxone at several of its facilities around the state and at certain mobile units.  DOH reports that Naloxone the Department distributed has been used successfully more than 3,000 times in New Mexico.

In addition to current providers, "Naloxone should be given to persons incarcerated in county jails upon their release if they are known to have used opioids" suggests Dr. Bruce Trigg, a retired DOH physician who has worked with methadone treatment in New Mexico for more than 8 years.  Currently more than 300 prisoners per month go through the opioid detox program at Albuquerque's Metropolitan Detention Center.  "Anyone with an addiction to opioids should also get information about and access to one of the two medically proven treatments - methadone and buprenorphine."

Dr. Trigg also recommends that "every patient prescribed more than 30 days of opioid pain relievers should also receive a prescription for Naloxone."

"Everyone who loves or lives with a person who uses opioids – whether opioid pain relievers or heroin – should learn how to use Naloxone and have it on hand", says Dr. Anjali Taneja, a physician at Casa de Salud.   "Imagine how many more overdose deaths could be prevented if it was more readily available?"

The new harm reduction manager must also ensure all New Mexicans are educated about their rights if they call 911 on behalf of an overdose victim, as they have limited immunity from prosecution for drug possession under the State's 911/Good Samaritan Law.

Whether injected or snorted as heroin or ingested as an opioid pain reliever, all opiates are treated by the body the same way and ultimately have the same effect on the brain, including the potential for fatal overdose.

Available in both injectable and nasal spray forms, Naloxone requires minimal training for effective use.  And, it is equally effective reversing overdoses caused by heroin or prescription opioid pain relievers.  Simply stated, Naloxone saves lives.

"It's time for New Mexico to take the lead by dramatically expanding the availability of Naloxone," said Kaltenbach of DPA. "Let's stop treating drug overdose as a moral failure and started treating it as a problem to be solved."

DOH also provides Naloxone for distribution by other health offices such as El Centro Family Health in Espanola and Casa de Salud in Albuquerque.  A complete list of DOH-related providers can be accessed at the DOH website at http://tinyurl.com/ceswheb

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is the nation's leading organization of people who believe the war on drugs is doing more harm than good. DPA fights for drug policies based on science, compassion, health and human rights.

Emily Kaltenbach 505-920-5256 or Rick Word 505-573-4422

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