The use of a class of prescription painkillers shot up dramatically in New Mexico during the past decade. And the 2010 sales rate of oxycodone in Lincoln and Otero counties was the fourth highest per capita of the state's 13 three-digit ZIP codes.
A report released Wednesday by the New Mexico Department of Health indicated the 883xx ZIP code (generally Lincoln and Otero counties) had a sales rate of the highly controlled opioid drug of 23.7 grams per 100 persons in 2010. Doses of oxycodone are typically in the 5 mg. to 15 mg. range. The Lincoln County rate matched the statewide level.
The commander of the Lincoln County Narcotics Enforcement Unit, Lincoln County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Ken Cramer, said illicit prescription drugs, especially opioids, are an issue in the county.
"One of the reasons is that we have an aging population," Cramer said. "We are a magnet community for retirees and people who come in from other places after having made their fortune or having an ability to have money to have a second home or something of that nature. Because of the aging population, there is a greater number of people who are using painkillers and things of that nature due to their age."
In some cases, the pain killers end up in the hands of someone they were not prescribed for, either through theft or sale. Cramer added that some people are over-prescribed. He said people can become addicted as was the case of radio commentator Rush Limbaugh.
"Our narcotics unit has
many numerous arrests for prescription drug violations over the past four or five years," Cramer said.
Cramer noted a case from a couple of years ago where a woman had obtained some 1,600 hydrocodone pills in one month.
"Lincoln County identified and dismantled the only prescription drug DTO (drug trafficking organization) that I know of in the history of New Mexico. That was last year. It was a bunch of high school kids."
Cramer stopped short of saying the diversion of pain-relieving medications into the illicit market has gotten worse during the five years he has been with the narcotics unit. But he added the unit still sees cases because the opioids and other medications are out there.
The highest 2010 oxycodone sales rate in New Mexico was in Sierra County and vicinity, at 38.1 mg. per 100 people. The Albuquerque area was second at 35.0. And the Santa Fe/Rio Arriba/Taos counties region was third at 24.3 mg.
Since 2001, the amount of oxycodone sold in the state jumped 233 percent, the department said. Sales of all prescription opioid pain relievers rose 111 percent over 10 years. During the same period, the state's drug overdose death rate increased 62 percent. And since 2007, the fatal overdose rate from prescription drugs, such as oxycodone, morphine and methadone, has exceeded the death rate from illicit drugs.
Last month the Department of Health received and analyzed U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) data on the sales of highly controlled prescription drugs in New Mexico. The information showed that almost 2,500 pounds of prescription opioids were sold in New Mexico in 2010. Oxycodone sales led all other opioids at 1,074 pounds. Oxycodone is marketed under the product name of Oxycontin and others.
As the availability of prescription opioids has increased in New Mexico, so has the drug overdose rate. Between 2001 and 2010, the death rate went from 14.4 to 23.3 deaths per 100,000 people. In 2010 alone, 468 New Mexicans died from drug overdoses. Oxycodone has been the leading source of prescription overdose deaths since 2008.
Based on the findings from the DEA data, the Department of Health will join with other agencies to further analyze the data with a goal of developing evidence-based physician and patient education initiative. The department also will support the Board of Pharmacy in using the Prescription Monitoring Program numbers to more closely follow prescription writing and patient use patterns and will work with licensing boards to implement policies to assure proper prescribing of opioid pain relievers.
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