ALBUQUERQUE, N.M (KRQE) – More than 500 million prescription painkillers were supplied to New Mexico, according to data released last week and analyzed by The Washington Post.
The database, maintained by the Drug Enforcement Administration, tracked the path of every pain pill sold in the United States between 2006 and 2012. The data was released as part of the largest civil action in U.S. history and provides insight into the surge of legal pain pills that fueled the prescription opioid epidemic.
KRQE used The Post’s data, which looks at the two most common painkillers oxycodone and hydrocodone, to dive deeper into the issue for New Mexico.
A pharmacy in Espanola distributed an average of more than 2,400 prescription opioids a day in a town of roughly 10,000 people. Another pharmacy in Truth or Consequences, a town of approximately 6,000 residents, sold an average of more than 1,700 pain pills per day. In Albuquerque, a largely mail-order pharmacy dispersed a daily average of more than 4,600 pills, the largest quantity in the state.
New Mexico has had opioid addiction rates and drug-related deaths above the national average for the better part of a decade, according to state data. In 2017, the state ranked 17th in the nation for drug overdose deaths.
There has been some progress. In October, the New Mexico Department of Health said opioid prescriptions for the second quarter of 2018 had dropped nearly 12% from the same period the previous year. The rate of overdose deaths fell 4% between 2016 and 2017, the agency said.
During those seven years, the pharmacy in Espanola received more than 6.1 million pain pills from distributors, having the third-largest quantity in the state.
Rio Arriba County has since become the worst county in the state for drug-related deaths adjusted for population, with a rate nearly four times the national averages, according to the New Mexico Department of Health. The county had an average of 85.5 drug-related deaths per 100,000 people between 2013 and 2017, which was double the amount of the second-highest county.
Lauren Reichelt, the Health and Human Services Director for the county, expressed great concern and said she plans to bring it up at the next rapid response team that was implemented to combat drug abuse in the county.
“This is something that is being done to our community,” Reichelt said, adding, “This is just extraordinary and I’m appalled.”
Sierra County had the state’s highest rate of pills per person averaging 73.9 pain pills per person. That is twenty pills more than the county with the second-highest rate, neighboring Lincoln County.
In May of this year, Sierra and Lincoln were two of seven counties that filed a joint lawsuit against more than two dozen manufacturers and distributors of prescription opioids.
In their complaints, Cibola, Valencia, Catron, Sierra, Curry, Lincoln and Socorro counties allege violations of New Mexico laws, negligence, conspiracy and fraud, and claim the companies deceptively prescribed and marketed the addictive drugs that contributed to a public health crisis and is draining county resources, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.
Socorro County Manager Delilah Walsh said the smaller New Mexico counties came together to have a better chance against the opioid crisis. “The only thing we are sure of is the impact of opioid abuse in our community,” said Walsh.
The New Mexico Attorney General’s Office sued opioid manufacturers and distributors in a state District Court in 2017, saying the action was the beginning of holding companies accountable for the harm opioids have caused New Mexicans.