At a Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control hearing, held yesterday, U.S. Senator Tom Udall spoke out on the emerging threat of prescription drug abuse and overdoses in New Mexico and the need to combat the epidemic nationwide. At the hearing Senator Udall underscored the emerging threat to individuals in our state and to our communities.
“New Mexico has the sad distinction of having the highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the country. It is tragic and it is unacceptable,” said Udall, a member of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control. “Since 2007, more New Mexicans have overdosed and died from prescription drugs —like oxycodone, morphine and methadone— than from illicit drugs, like heroin and cocaine.”
During the hearing, Udall also noted that in the last decade alone, New Mexico’s prescription drug overdose rate has increased by more than 60 percent and that prescription drug abuse is often a gateway to heroin for young people.
Director of National Drug Control Policy Gil Kerlikowske testified that communities across the country have witnessed increases in substance abuse treatment admissions, emergency department visits, and most disturbingly, overdose deaths attributable to prescription drug overdoses.
Other witnesses agreed and called for better technology and coordination to track the number of separate prescriptions and amount of pills distributed to one individual. They also asked for more prescription drug reclaiming centers to prevent unused opiates from falling into the wrong hands, and wider access to treatment facilities.
Witnesses testifying included parent-advocates who recounted heart-wrenching stories of their children who died as a result of prescription drug addictions.
“In case you don’t know, there’s a severe shortage in this country for rehab facilities for young adults ages 18-25,” said Avi Israel, whose son Michael became addicted to prescription drugs after being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at an early age.
“Rather than find the source of Michael’s pain, all three of his doctors supplied Michael with a plethora of drugs,“ Israel said. “The United states has 4.6 percent of the world’s population, yet consumes 99.8 percent of the hydrocodone produced in the world.”
Udall and the Caucus concluded the hearing with a commitment to working with witnesses and advocates on a set of legislative actions that can be taken to help combat this rising crisis.