NM to study possibility of safe injection sites

New Mexico had one of the highest overdose rates in the nation for the better part of two decades

By Susan Montoya Bryan
Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico is joining the list of states and cities that are studying whether overdose deaths linked to the nation's opioid crisis can be curbed with the establishment of safe havens where addicts can inject themselves with heroin and other drugs while under medical supervision.

A measure passed in the final days of the legislative session clears the way for an interim panel of lawmakers to take testimony on the possibility of creating so-called safe injection sites where people can shoot up pharmaceutical-grade drugs while under the watchful eye of trained professionals who could administer an overdose antidote if necessary.

Such injection sites are operating in Canada, Australia and around Europe. Philadelphia wants to establish its own safe havens, and Seattle has set aside funding for a site in that city.

Rep. Deborah Armstrong, who proposed the measure, said New Mexico could serve as a model if a state program were to be developed. The Albuquerque Democrat described the opioid crisis as a health issue that needs to be combated with evidence-based treatments that have proven benefits for users, their families and communities.

She acknowledged that despite the recent national attention, opioid and heroin use has plagued some New Mexico communities for generations.

New Mexico had one of the highest overdose rates in the nation for the better part of two decades and only recently plateaued amid a series of pioneering policies aimed at combating opioid addiction, including becoming the first state to require law enforcement agencies to provide officers with overdose antidote kits.

The state also has a prescription monitoring database to prevent overlapping drug sales and has expanded access to naloxone, a drug that can reverse overdoses.

Legislative analysts, however, have said new approaches are needed as New Mexico continues to see ill-effects of the crisis, from crimes related to the need for money for drugs to inadequate parenting related to drug addiction.

Kimberly Page, a professor and chief of epidemiology, biostatistics and preventative medicine at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, said injection sites could have safety and economic benefits for the state.

"The medical and social consequences of opioid use are multiple, with profound impacts on the lives of New Mexicans," Page said in a statement. "Adding new tools to help people with opioid dependence puts our state in the forefront of working to overcome the public health threat of this growing problem."

Recovery advocates and others also have been pushing state health officials to add opioid addiction to the list of conditions for which people can participate in New Mexico's medical marijuana program. The House and Senate overwhelmingly passed measures during the session calling for more study of the issue.

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