Doña Ana County has begun distributing the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone to friends and family members of individuals who are at risk of an overdose. Organizations that serve at-risk individuals have also received naloxone kits.
The project is funded by a five-year grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. About $79,000 per year will go toward naloxone distribution and other prevention programs in the Las Cruces area.
Doña Ana County Health and Human Services Director Jamie Michael told the Las Cruces Sun-News that friends and family members are often able to respond to overdoses before police officers or paramedics.
“The sooner the Narcan is administered, the better,” Michael said. “So if we get it into the hands of people that would be closest to the person, the chance of reversal improves.”
Narcan is a brand name of a nasal spray containing naloxone, an opioid antidote that can reverse the effects of an overdose in minutes. The spray is easy to use for individuals with limited training, and it usually comes with instructions on the device.
Organizations that serve homeless individuals, including the Mesilla Valley Community of Hope and St. Luke’s Health clinic, were among the first groups to receive the overdose reversal kits, according to the Las Cruces Sun-News.
In 2015, 38 people died from drug overdoses in Doña County, according to the New Mexico Department of Health. The majority of those deaths were caused by opioids, such as heroin and oxycodone. The county’s death rate was below the state’s that year.
This isn’t the first time that Las Cruces public officials have led efforts to reduce opioid misuse. In 2016, New Mexico Rep. Terry McMillan, R-Las Cruces, sponsored a bill that expanded access to naloxone by allowing any individual to possess an opioid antagonist.
Before House Bill 277 was signed into law, it was illegal to possess opioid antagonists, such as naloxone or naltrexone, in New Mexico without a prescription. The law made it legal for pharmacists to dispense opioid reversal drugs to individuals at risk of an overdose or those in a position to assist a person experiencing an overdose. It also allowed community organizations to store and distribute naloxone without risk of liability.
New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez signed the bill on March 4, 2016.
In January 2017, District Attorney Mark D’Antonio, whose district includes Doña County, joined New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas on a steering committee to develop a statewide strategy to combat opioid abuse.
“Today I’m announcing full participation of district attorneys … who are joining a law enforcement network that will be tasked with reducing harm and abuse of the opiate epidemic in each of our communities in the state of New Mexico,” Balderas said at a news conference, per the Albuquerque Journal.
The state’s attorney general said the district attorneys will partner with community leaders, policymakers, health providers and families to make the state safe.
“Organizing DAs in a cohesive team to combat this terrible issue is the best idea that’s come along in a very long time,” D’Antonio said at the news conference.
It wouldn’t be the first time that local leaders came together to develop strategies to combat the opioid epidemic. In 2016, the New Mexico Osteopathic Medical Association hosted the Las Cruces Prescription Drug Abuse Summit at New Mexico State University.
Lawmakers, law enforcement, educators and health providers came together to discuss the prevention of prescription opioid deaths.
The state of New Mexico is one of the few states in the country to reduce the number of drug overdose deaths since the opioid epidemic began. The number of people who died in New Mexico from drug overdoses dropped slightly from 2014 to 2015, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.
During the same time, the number of drug deaths stabilized in Doña Ana County. If state leaders keep working with local leaders on life-saving projects, there’s hope that the progress will continue.