23 Jul CDC Report on Drug Abuse Reveals Ominous Trends for US and NM
Opioid drug abuse, particularly heroin and prescription painkiller abuse, has become an increasing problem in the United States in recent years. This week, the ever-growing corpus of evidence supporting this claim was bolstered by a Center for Disease Control and Prevention report which revealed startling data for the United States and for New Mexico.
Findings indicate that rates of heroin use and fatal overdose deaths are rising, especially among young adults and the poor. In the 18-25 age group, use rates doubled. From 2002-2013, heroin-related overdose deaths rose an alarming 286%. Following a two-year lull, heroin overdose deaths in New Mexico resurged in 2014. New Mexico State Department of Health spokesman Kenny Vigil stated that drug overdose deaths in New Mexico saw a “substantial increase” in 2014.
How can we explain such disturbing trends? According to Harris Silver, a retired physician and co-chair of the Bernalillo County Opioid Accountability Initiative, the rising heroin use rates are directly related to rising rates in prescription opioids.
The State’s Prescription Monitoring Program has helped to increase safety related to prescription drugs, yet efforts to curb prescription drug abuse sometimes have unintended consequences. Once the monitoring program identifies individuals who are doctor shopping, misusing, or overusing medications, they are cut off from the drugs. These individuals, now unable to legitimately obtain prescription painkillers and drug-dependent, often resort to a seemingly superior alternative: heroin. Cheaper than prescription painkillers, widely available, and potent, heroin has become the pressure-release valve for many people suffering from opioid drug dependence.
According to experts, treatment options for opioid dependence are scarce and hard to access. This is a serious problem, as treatment represents an important tool in the fight against drug addiction. Data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration indicate that for every public dollar spent on treatment, twelve dollars are saved which would otherwise be funneled into criminal justice and medical services.
Untreated addictions have a far-reaching array of societal consequences. In 2011, Santa Fe Police Captain Jerome Sanchez worked in the city’s Property Crimes Unit. Commenting on the trends he noticed, he stated: “Burglaries, auto theft, shoplifting, they were all going through the roof. And every single person we arrested that year was an addict.” He indicated that individuals involved in these crimes were in serious need of treatment and wanted help.
Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales stated that “this is a health issue that needs to be addressed, not a criminal issue, and the sooner we as a country realize that, the better off we’ll all be.” Reallocating resources toward treatment and prevention, rather than criminal justice and incarceration, represents the wisest course of action regarding substance abuse.