New Mexico Takes Big Step Against Opioid Epidemic

April 12, 2017

New legislation could be a model for other states.

New Mexico recently became the first state to require all police to carry naloxone kits in an effort to reduce the death rates due to opioid overdoses.

New Mexico has one of the highest rates of opioid deaths in the country, although rates have been falling in recent years. Part of this is thanks to New Mexico being the first state to allow pharmacists to dispense naloxone without a prescription, as well as to a system of training physicians about prescribing painkillers and for tracking prescriptions.

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The legislation, unanimously approved by lawmakers, was signed last week by Governor Susana Martinez (R), who added that more was needed to put an end to the crisis.

"We're making progress but it's never enough," she said. "We have to keep working hard at this problem and reducing the number of overdoses. Signing this bill is an important step to fight the scourge of drug abuse and overdose fatalities."

In addition to increased naloxone access, the bill will also require the New Mexico Corrections Department and county jails to provide inmates who have a history of substance abuse two doses of naloxone when they are released. It also encourages federally certified opioid treatment centers to educate their patients about overdose, and to provide them with two doses of naloxone with a prescription for more.

Joanna Katzman, MD, an expert on opioid abuse prevention, was an instrumental part of pushing the bill forward. Katzman is the Executive Medical Director of the University of New Mexico (UNM) Pain Management Center, and combined her years of research with five years of meetings with police and correctional officers.

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She said that because New Mexico has a small population and is largely rural, legislators had to be creative in formulating a targeted program. “These are the places [prisons, treatment centers] where citizens are at most risk,” she said, adding that studies have shown that the first two weeks out of a treatment center or jail are the most dangerous. In a treatment center or in prison, a patient loses his or her tolerance to opioids, which makes it more likely that they will overdose when they get out and use the amount of drug they had been used to.

Up next: What critics say about the bill

 

In her research, Katzman has found that education and access to naloxone are vital to curb the opioid epidemic. At the UNM Pain Center, Katzman said that she and her team had “streamlined the process of naloxone education” to 15 to 20 minutes. This

Joana Katzman, MDquick education, along with handing out naloxone, could prove valuable in reversing overdoses. She told Drug Topics that she hopes this program will reduce deaths from opioids by 10% to 15% in the next year because it would help people where they need it.

However, while lawmakers praised the bill, some found aspects of it problematic, especially the lack of provided funding.  Police kits will be paid for with money allotted for each officer’s training and equipment. For all other kits the state hopes to fund the kits through grant funding. As the Santa Fe New Mexican reported, with naloxone kits each costing between $50 to $100, the bill would require $200,000 a year for full implantation at the state Corrections Department alone. This leaves small communities vulnerable, even with grant money. “Once the grant runs out, they don’t have it,” said Representative Bill Rehm (R), of Albuquerque.

Katzman is optimistic that the grant money will come through. She says that she hopes that for-profit treatment centers will see the value of the program and contribute. Additionally, she said that many federally funded treatment centers in the state are already dispensing or providing a naloxone prescription, so complying with the new bill would not be as difficult as starting from scratch.

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Katzman hopes that this model will be passed to other states, much like other states have followed New Mexico’s lead in allowing pharmacists to dispense naloxone without a prescription. She said that she hopes to see naloxone in “every medicine cabinet in the country.”

She added that pharmacists “can play a tremendous role” in fighting against the opioid epidemic. Pharmacists are “much more empowered than they might realize.” Education is a vital part of the recovery process, and she sees pharmacists playing a role. 

Cover image: Governor Susana Martinez (R) speaks during the signing ceremony, Katzman stands on the right. Image provided by Joana Katzman.