New Mexico no longer in top 10 for fatal overdoses

A surge in drug overdose deaths along the East Coast means that New Mexico has dropped out of the top 10 nationally for fatal overdoses, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.

A state analysis of drug overdose deaths for New Mexico was released in July and showed 497 deaths in 2016 — four more than in 2015 but below the 547 reported in 2014.

That 2016 number puts the New Mexico rate for drug overdose deaths at 25.2 per 100,000 population, the official gauge used by the CDC to compare states.

In 2014, New Mexico had the second-highest drug overdose death rate in the country. In 2015, that rank dropped to eighth behind West Virginia, New Hampshire, Ohio, Kentucky, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.

Now, a spike in deaths in some other states — Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland and Maine — has pushed New Mexico to 12th for 2016, according to CDC data posted last week.

West Virginia had a drug overdose death rate of 52 per 100,000 in 2016, the worst in the country, the data show.

Other states saw deaths rise 20 percent to 30 percent, while fatalities stabilized in New Mexico. The national average in 2016 was 19.8 deaths per 100,000 in population.

According to the CDC report, 22 states had drug overdose death rates that were higher than the national rate, five states were comparable and 23 states had lower rates.

In addition to West Virginia, the highest rates were found in Ohio, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania. The lowest rates were in Iowa, North Dakota, Texas, South Dakota and Nebraska.

Still, within New Mexico, there were areas with significantly higher fatality rates. Rio Arriba County had 90 drug overdose deaths per 100,000, with Catron County second at 55; San Miguel and Lincoln counties were next at 43.4 and Guadalupe County at 40.3. The rate was 32.3 per 100,000 in Santa Fe County and 32.1 in Taos County.

The CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics reports 63,632 drug overdose deaths nationally in 2016, up from 52,400 in 2015.

While the majority of fatals were linked to natural opioids, the number of deaths from manufactured, or synthetic, opioids doubled in 2016 and surpassed heroin for the first time. The most prevalent synthetic, fentanyl, is easier to get on the East Coast and often cheaper than buying heroin or prescription pain pills on the street.

Dr. Michael Landen, state epidemiologist, had predicted that other states would surpass New Mexico and said stabilizing deaths was a first step to seeing future declines.

“Of course, we’d like to see the rate continue to decrease,” Landen told The New Mexican in July. “But based on estimates of the national numbers, our rate is one of the few that’s not increasing.”

The state has taken several measures to fight the overdose problem in recent years. One new law makes it mandatory for health care practitioners to check a patient’s prescription history as part of a prescription monitoring program for opioids, an effort to stop abusers from “doctor shopping” for pain drugs.

The state has seen a 63 percent increase in providers using the monitoring program since last year, and the number of opioid pills prescribed has dropped 5 percent.

The state also was among the first to permit law enforcement agencies to provide officers with naloxone, a medication that reverses opioid overdoses.

Since 2015, Santa Fe County deputies have been trained to administer naloxone, also known as Narcan. Since then, the New Mexico State Police and other agencies around the state also have been trained on the reversal drug.

Vox News reported Tuesday that preliminary numbers for 2017 will show a continued increase in drug overdose deaths across the country, but that data won’t be finalized until next December.