Here’s a sobering statistic: More than 43,000 New Mexicans have died from drugs and alcohol over the last 30 years.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the number of people dying from drug overdoses and alcohol-related causes continues to get worse — fueled in part by fentanyl and methamphetamine, which are now claiming more lives than heroin and prescription opioids, according to a report presented Thursday to the Legislative Finance Committee.

New Mexico hit a grim milestone last year.

“Drug overdose and alcohol-related deaths in New Mexico reached all-time highs in 2020, even though the state has tripled spending on substance use treatment since 2014,” the report states.

Last year, 1,770 people died from alcohol-related causes and 766 from drug overdoses.

“New Mexico has long had some of the highest death rates from alcohol and drugs in the country,” the report states. “Since 1990, drug overdose deaths have increased by 572 percent and alcohol-related deaths have increased by 165 percent.”

Between 2016 and 2020, the state’s alcohol-related death rate grew from 66 per 100,000 people to 88.5.

“Similarly, from 2016 to 2020, the state’s drug overdose death rate increased by 54 percent,” the report states. “In 2019, the last year for which federal data is available, New Mexico’s overdose death rate was 40 percent higher than the national rate.”

New Mexico is not alone. Drug overdose deaths jumped nearly 30 percent nationwide in 2020, a record high of more than 93,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Fentanyl and methamphetamine, which are cheaper and easier to buy on the street, are driving the increase of deadly drug overdoses in New Mexico. The two drugs contributed to 78 percent of drug overdose deaths last year. The report to state lawmakers from legislative analysts notes the coronavirus pandemic may have contributed to the spike in deaths last year.

“A recent working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research found evidence that ‘deaths of despair’ — avoidable tragedies such as suicide and drug overdose — increased by at least 10 percent relative to prepandemic levels,” the report states.

Increased access to services amid worsening death rates “indicates treatment is an essential but incomplete solution,” according to the report, which recommends the state improve its prevention and early intervention programs.

The report also notes “little progress has been made to close one of the most glaring gaps in the treatment system — the criminal justice system.”

“We know there’s a strong connection between the criminal justice system and substance use disorders, and that reducing incarceration related to substance use requires effective diversion, access to treatment while incarcerated and connections to services after release,” Cally Carswell, a program evaluator for the Legislative Finance Committee, told lawmakers. “We also know we’re not doing nearly enough of any of these things in the state.”

Provider rates have been increased and other changes have been made in recent years to bolster the state’s behavioral health safety net. However, the report recommends more work be done to improve the quality of care, boost access, increase financial incentives and build a behavioral health care workforce that better represents the state’s cultural and racial demographics.

Carswell said two of the main findings in the report seem to be in conflict with each other.

“On the one hand, we’ve made a lot of progress in expanding access to treatment and on the other, our problem continues to get worse,” she said. “This demonstrates that adequate access to treatment is of course very important but not a complete solution on its own and that the state has really got to play the long game in order to move the needle on these issues. That means making a focused effort to provide services and interventions to at-risk populations to prevent substance use disorders from developing in the first place.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.

(11) comments

Dan Frazier

According to this article, the number of deaths in 2020 from drugs and alcohol in New Mexico was 2,536. According to a press release from the governor's office dated Dec. 30, 2020, there were 2,436 deaths from Covid-19 as of that date.

Meanwhile, the number of deaths from cancer in New Mexico is substantially greater than the combined deaths from unintentional injuries (includes overdoses and alcohol related accidents), suicide and liver disease (2,558 combined in 2017). The number of deaths from heart disease is even greater than the number from cancer. In 2017 there were 3,618 deaths from cancer and 3,895 deaths from heart disease in New Mexico.

The governor should issue public health orders that encourage people to eat more plant-based foods and less meat, eggs and dairy. She should also order people to exercise more.

What the above article does not mention is that the New Mexico legislature recently made it easier to get a liquor license in New Mexico and modified the law in several other ways that will only exacerbate alcohol abuse in new Mexico.

Bernadette Gonzales

Many overdoses are occurring in Santa Fe from pills with Fentanyl. People are unaware of what’s in the pills they’re getting from the streets. Sadly, our teens are getting ahold of them with deadly outcomes. More awareness is needed about what’s circulating in our streets.

Eileen Barrett

I hope NM can use this devastating information to make changes in how we offer treatment. In this medical journal's report, only half of NM's hospitals had Suboxone available for patients: https://journals.lww.com/journaladdictionmedicine/Abstract/9000/Statewide_Availability_of_Buprenorphine_Naloxone.99070.aspx

Mike Johnson

Maybe MLG can issue a "public health order", given her vast totalitarian powers under the poorly written and egregious health act, and stop this completely........she thinks she is all powerful in this area, right?

Nancy Lockland

Unfortunately there are not enough treatment centers or counseling facilities for these type of people and if they happen to get an appointment its 3-4 months out. For most of these people, they live day to day and 3-4 months out seems like eternity. The numbers will continue to rise as long as there is no type of help.

Aurora Sanchez

A question that should be answered is where is the money for treatment and prevention going done we lack treatment center and wrong prevention programs? Are the dollars going to administration instead of service delivery?

Red Eagle

Has anyone noticed that more people died from drug and alcohol related issues than COVID in New Mexico in 2020. Not to mention the suicide deaths. MLG needs to go, she has done nothing but play politics with the people in this state.

Richard Irell

The 2500 or so New Mexicans who died from alcohol and drug related issues were victims of their own mistakes. The 2000 or so New Mexicans who died from COVID-19 issues were victims of circumstance.

Mike Johnson

Wait, I thought all COVID deaths are due to not following health orders, stay home, masks, distancing, vaccine, etc.

Richard Irell

Your lack of empathy is stunning. The people who were infected and died often had little choice. Like those in nursing homes. Those who had to continue to work (and their families) to provide basic services for the rest of us. Those who lived in crowded homes and neighborhoods.

Mike Johnson

I'm amazed at your lack of support for the public health orders and the claims they would reduce deaths drastically if followed by all. But, maybe you are correct, there was really no impact and it was all random circumstance.

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