Overdose deaths still high in county

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12 people died in 2012

By The Staff

Drug overdose deaths in New Mexico decreased in 2012, but in San Miguel County the number of people who died from overdoses over the same period remained flat.

Department of Health statistics released to the Optic this week show that 12 people died from drug overdoses in San Miguel County in 2012. That’s the same number of people who died of overdoses in the county in 2011 and more than double the number of overdose deaths in the county in 2000.

“Overdoses are a complex community health issue,” said Las Vegas Police Chief Christian Montaño. Montaño’s agency oversees the Region IV Narcotics Task Force, which has been aggressively targeting drug dealers. But Montaño notes that many of the fatal overdoses are related to prescription drugs.

“There’s no single magic silver bullet to solve it,” he said.

Health Department statistics paint a troubling picture of fatal overdoses in San Miguel County since 2000 when there were five.

On a per capita basis, San Miguel County’s overdose death rate in 2012 was 41.5 per 100,000 population.

According to the Health Department, Rio Arriba County had the highest overdose death rate in New Mexico with a 2008-12 average of 67.2 deaths per 100,000 persons.

Mora County had the highest overdose death rate at 65 per 100,000 persons during that same period.

While the Health Department statistics show troubling figures for San Miguel and Mora Counties, the state as a whole saw a 7 percent decrease in the overdose death rate from 2011 to 2012.

According to the Health Department:

• 468 people died in New Mexico from an overdose, which is 24.2 per 100,000 persons.

• More than 60 percent of the people who died of overdoses were men.

• Even with this one year decline, 2012 rates for men and women were significantly higher than 1990 rates.

“One of the main concerns is that overdose deaths due to prescription drugs are increasing,” said Health Secretary Retta Ward, in a news release. “The department is partnering with organizations to increase knowledge and availability of naloxone, which can help reverse an opioid overdose.”

According to the Health Department, New Mexico had the second highest drug overdose death rate in the nation in 2010, prompting several new initiatives. Among them:

• Mandatory use of the Prescription Monitoring Program to reduce “doctor shopping” by drug-seeking patients and inappropriate prescribing by medical providers.

• Required pain management provider education and safe drug disposal sites where people can drop off left-over prescriptions.

There have also been a number of law enforcements efforts targeting dealers over the last few years.  In August 2012, for example, a massive drug operation resulted in indictments against 25 people, most from Las Vegas, who were allegedly part of a heroin and crack cocaine distribution network.

Several Federal, state and local agencies joined efforts on the operation, including the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Region IV Narcotics Task Force, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the local district attorney’s office.

Montaño said enforcement on drug crimes by his agency remains high, despite cuts in state and federal funding.

2000: 5
2007: 8
2008: 9
2009: 5
2010: 10
2011: 12
2012: 12

*In San Miguel County
Source: NM Department of Health