ALBUQUERQUE — Some states, including New Mexico, are reporting a rise in heroin use as many addicts shift from more costly and harder-to-get prescription opiates to this cheaper alternative. A look at what’s happening in New Mexico:
The problem: New Mexico has one of the highest drug overdose death rates in the nation, with heroin being among the top cause of death behind prescription drugs. In addition, according to a national 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, New Mexico high school students had the second-highest rate for lifetime heroin use. The state’s small African American high school male student population had the state’s highest rate of heroin use at 14 percent, the survey said.
The small town of Española is in the grips of a heroin epidemic. In 2009, for example, the city saw 42.5 drug-related deaths per 100,000 residents.
The numbers: In 2011, the New Mexico lifetime heroin rate was 4.7 percent, higher than the U.S. rate of 2.9 percent, the New Mexico Heath Department said.
Rio Arriba County, where the troubled town of Española sits, had the highest drug-overdose death rate between 2007 and 2011.
Solutions: In 2001, New Mexico began a distribution program involving a drug widely sold under its generic name, naloxone. It counteracts the effects of heroin, OxyContin and other powerful painkillers and has been routinely used by ambulance crews and emergency rooms in the U.S. for decades. New Mexico health officials estimate the statewide naloxone distribution has counteracted 3,000 overdoses.
The Health Department says that the drug doesn’t automatically guarantee to reverse the effects of overdose, but it’s still an important tool. “Opiate users who have participated in department-sanctioned heroin overdose prevention and treatment education programs are eligible to receive naloxone from department personnel,” the health department says.
In addition, a program called the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion is being tried in Santa Fe. The program seeks to catch heroin addicts who are nonviolent offenders before they go into jail by focusing on treatment. The city is putting $300,000 into the program over three years.