Drug overdose deaths increased by 25% in New Mexico in 2020, according to a recent numbers gathered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Last year saw 721 deaths by overdose, which is 147 more fatalities than 2019, which saw 574.
Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, played a large role in the increase.
“We’ve been spared from fentanyl in our drug supply for many years and since 2019 we’ve seen an increase in fentanyl in the New Mexico illicit drug supply,” Dr. Katie Witkiewitz, professor of psychology at the Center on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Addictions (CASAA) at the University of New Mexico, told The Center Square.
Fentanyl is often used to cut more expensive drugs like Xanax, Valium or heroin, she explained, and is far more deadly.
Witkiewitz said there are multiple pandemics going on.
“We can’t ignore COVID and the effect it’s had on people’s distress and mental health and desire to feel better and feel less bad, so I think there’s a real aspect of this that should focus on the fact that people are really hurting and suffering,” she said.
Witkiewitz adds that it is not known how much of the increase is due to the pandemic, and there is never simply one causal agent.
While fentanyl-laced drugs have certainly helped push the numbers up, Witkiewitz points out it is not the only culprit.
“We’re also seeing increased deaths involving benzodiazepines and cocaine and methamphetamine,” she said.
Blaming only fentanyl is short-sighted, she adds, stating the increase is across many types.
Witkiewitz believes one way the state could help reverse the upward trend is to stop their well-intentioned attempts to decrease the amount of opioids prescribed.
“The unintended consequences of that are people not being able to get prescription opioids and so turning to illicit drugs and street drugs,” she said.
She notes there is a fine line when evaluating addiction. Many people are dependent on prescription opioids, but they are able to manage any side effects, she points out.
“There’s actually a lot of research on this that states including New Mexico who’ve tried to implement policies to reduce supply of prescription opioids have actually potentially contributed to the overdose deaths in the state because people who were well maintained on prescription opioids are not getting their prescription opioids, and so they turn to street opioids, which can be laced with fentanyl and benzos and all sorts of other things,” Witkiewitz.
She also states New Mexico should make fentanyl test strips legal and widely available. Currently, they are illegal, but they could save lives if users were able to test for the presence of fentanyl in their drugs.
Increasing the availability of naloxone for reversing overdoses, as well as rehabilitation drugs like methadone and buprenorphine would also help curb overdose deaths, according to Witkiewitz.
New Mexico is also the first in the nation for alcohol-related deaths.
This article was originally posted on Drug overdose deaths spike 25% in New Mexico