New Mexico Study Highlights Rising Opioid Use, Need for Changes

New Mexico Study Highlights Rising Opioid Use, Need for Changes

Opioid drugs represent the second most prevalent type abused nationally. These substances possess significant pain relieving properties and often cause euphoria. Physical and psychological dependence on these substances is a well-established risk and the misery of opioid withdrawal has become part of our collective consciousness.
In response to suspected rises in opioid use, the City of Albuquerque recently commissioned researchers to assess local trends in drug use and treatment. The results are in: opioid use is increasing – both in adults and youth. This rise in opioid use also means an unfortunate rise in corresponding overdose deaths, joblessness, family problems, and crime. In this article we’ll explore the current state of affairs and recommendations for the future.

A Deadly Habit

Opioid drug abuse poses great risk to the user due to the possibility of fatal respiratory depression (reduced breathing) at high doses. At double the national rate, New Mexico holds the inauspicious top rank for drug overdose deaths by an enormous margin. Heroin and prescription opioids account for almost three quarters of these deaths.
Younger individuals in our community have increasingly high rates of opioid use and youth represent the fastest-growing sector of the opioid-using population. In 2001, New Mexican high school students were more likely to have used heroin compared to students in other states. Bernalillo County statistics reveal that from 2002 – 2004, people between ages 18 and 25 had much higher rates of prescription painkiller abuse than older age segments. As a proportion of statewide heroin-related overdoses, deaths in the youth increased more than fivefold since 2004.
One interview respondent stated that “We are sitting on a new epidemic of young people. They start out with pills and then switch to heroin, and it is a struggle to get them into therapy.” It is common for users to begin with prescription painkillers and then transition to using heroin because heroin is cheaper and widely available.

Good Help is Hard to Find

The study also indicates that the New Mexico substance abuse treatment infrastructure has some serious problems. There is a severe shortage of counseling services, medical care, treatment facilities, and medication support for opioid-dependent patients. A study respondent reported that “It is a struggle to find consistent counseling, and there are no efforts to increase availability.”
Considering the alarming increases of opioid use in the youngest populations, one would hope that treatment options for young people were plentiful. However, Albuquerque currently has precious few facilities willing to accept minors and none which are equipped to handle minors undergoing opioid withdrawal.
Local treatment providers also cite a lack of education as a problem. Both treatment professionals and the community at large would benefit from increased awareness. Proliferation of information about prevention, intervention, overdose treatment, and medications available to assist drug-dependent individuals is necessary.

Taking Action

Considering the prevalence of opioid use and the lack of necessary support systems, researchers recommend some changes. Important changes fall into one of these categories:

  • Curb prescription drug abuse before users move on to heroin

  • Bolster prevention efforts in the youth

  • Establish more treatment programs, especially those which accommodate youth

  • Incentivize buprenorphine treatments and publicize information about buprenorphine treatment availability

Our Pledge
Recovery Services of New Mexico is committed to the prevention and treatment of opioid addiction in our State, as well as education and community outreach. Please check out our website to get involved! 


Greenfield, B. L., Owens, M. D., & Ley, D. (2014). Opioid use in Albuquerque, New Mexico: a needs assessment of recent changes and treatment availability. Addiction science & clinical practice, 9(1), 1-8.
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