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Progress Puts Prescription Drugs to Better Use

May 7, 2014 - Opioid Safety - Awareness

There a fine line between prescription drug use and abuse, and the New Mexico Department of Health reports this week progress in reducing the state’s prescription drug abuse problem.

The New Mexico Department of Health and the New Mexico Board of Pharmacy announced this week a 10 percent decrease in the total amount of prescription pain killers dispensed in pharmacies statewide in 2013.

The finding is a big deal because it shows collaboration by state government and stakeholders to try control a large problem. The drug overdose death rate in New Mexico started to decline in 2012 after rising for years, not just here, but nationwide. Prescription drug overdoses rose to unprecedented levels throughout the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The specific prescription problem lies with opioids. Opioids are the medical term for a class of painkillers that can cause addiction. Drugs like oxycodone, morphine and methadone - whose sales in the state rose 131 percent between 2001 and 2010.

The Board of Pharmacy’s Prescription Monitoring Program New Mexico, which tracks controlled substance prescriptions filled in New Mexico, reports the amount of prescription pain relievers decreased, while the number of patients filling prescriptions for these drugs stayed the same.

“The decrease in prescribing pain medications in New Mexico is a step in the right direction,” said Department of Health Secretary Retta Ward, MPH. “Small changes such as decreasing the quantity of medication prescribed reduce the chances these drugs can be used for non-medical reasons, and we are making these changes without preventing New Mexicans in chronic pain from getting the treatment they need.”

The New Mexico Department of Health, the New Mexico Board of Pharmacy and health care provider licensing boards are continually working to improve prescribing practices for these drugs.

Licensing boards are doing it by requiring prescribers to check the Prescription Monitoring Program and require additional education for prescribers on the treatment of chronic pain. For example, if you throw out your back for whatever reason, and it’s sore for 3 three days, you realize you don’t need a 30-day supply of heavy duty pain killers.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health has also been working to make naloxone (better known as Narcan), the antidote for opioid overdose, more available to patients and their families filling opioid prescriptions.

Thanks to a change in regulation by the Board of Pharmacy earlier this year, pharmacists in New Mexico become the first in the United States certified to prescribe Narcan. The move means there’s more local providers to help residents in New Mexico than ever.

Narcan is one of the keys to preventing prescription drug overdose deaths, and there were possibly as many as 500 statewide overdose reversals due to Narcan in 2013.

It’s going to take time to compile the statewide data, so it remains to be seen as to what kind of difference a reduction in the number of pain pills will have on the number of drug overdose deaths, but the fewer pills out there, the fewer chances there will be for someone to abuse them.

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