*Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional details
SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – New Mexico is no stranger to drug overdoses and drug abuse. But legislators are considering an expanding overdose prevention for the state.
Monday, February 20, legislators debated House Bill 263. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Tara L. Lujan (D-Santa Fe) and Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil (D-Abq.), would expand on the existing Harm Reduction Act, which aims to cut down on overdoses.
“It is the intent of House Bill 263 to prevent fatal and non-fatal drug overdoses, provide a pathway to substance use disorder treatment for those who desire it, improve access to medical and social services, prevent the transmission of infectious disease, reduce public use of controlled substances, and reduce emergency room use and hospital utilization related to drug use,” said Rep. Lujan.
New Mexico ranks relatively high compared to other western states when it comes to drug overdoses. New Mexico had about 39 overdose deaths per 100,000 people in 2020, age-adjusted data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows. Texas had about 14 overdose deaths per 100,000. Colorado had about 25 per 100,000.
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New Mexico ranks relatively high in terms of overdose death rates. Data from CDC.
Already on the books in New Mexico are laws that direct the New Mexico Department of Health to operate a harm reduction program to address drug use. Last year, lawmakers adjusted the act to increase the state’s capacity to address an uptick in fentanyl use.
Now, some are seeking to expand on that by creating overdose prevention facilities and provide liability protections for people involved in overdose prevention. They’re also seeking to provide space for “safe and hygienic” drug consumption, where professionals can supervise drug use.
“Many of my patients have been with me for five or 10 years, through ups and downs. When I ask them, ‘What was the most important factor in your recovery?’ they say: Knowing people in their lives have faith in them,” Dr. Wendy Johnson, the medical director of La Familia Heath in Santa Fe, told legislators. “That’s what overdose prevention centers are.”
Some lawmakers seemed sympathetic to the idea behind the bill but wanted more details. “If you catch somebody that is dealing drugs right outside [a prevention center], are they going to be turned in to law enforcement, or how does that work?” Rep. Stefani Lord (R-Edgewood) asked.
“That is not the mission of this program,” Rep. Lujan clarified. “And that is not the mission of the harm reduction model, at all.”
Experts pointed to the success of programs like this in places like New York City in preventing fatal overdoses. Rep. Lujan said the mission of places like this is to meet people where they are, provide a safe space, and offer them a host of services to get them help when it is desired. No one in the audience spoke in opposition on Monday but many spoke in support.
Ultimately, not everyone was on board: The three Republicans on the committee voted against the bill. Still the House Health and Human Services Committee voted to move the legislation forward. It will now head to the House Judiciary Committee. An analysis of this bill shows it would cost around $96,000 a year to expand the program under the bill.