DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH
The New Mexico Department of Health reports provisional 2020 death data showing a rise in fentanyl-related deaths from 2019, surpassing both heroin and prescription-opioid-related deaths in the state.
Provisional 2020 data already show that overdose rates for fentanyl have doubled in 2020 over 2019, after almost doubling in 2019 from 2018. Fentanyl overdose deaths increased by 93% in 2019 compared to the year before. With 2020 data still coming in, there is already an additional increase of 129% over 2019, and the increase may be even higher when 2020 death data are finalized later this year.
The trend in increasing fentanyl overdose deaths in New Mexico mirrors trends in most of the United States. Beginning in the late 1990s, the United States has seen three waves of the opioid overdose crisis: prescription opioids, heroin, and now fentanyl. The fentanyl wave began around 2013 in the eastern U.S. and is now affecting New Mexico.
Fentanyl, which is 50-100 times more potent than morphine, is often mixed with heroin but is also often mixed into counterfeit opioids. Many overdose deaths are believed to be unintentional; a person may take what they believe to be heroin, not knowing that fentanyl is also present, and suffer an overdose because of the increased potency of fentanyl. In some cases, fentanyl has also been found in cocaine. Because many cocaine users are not accustomed to taking opioids, they are at even greater risk of overdosing than those who accidentally ingest fentanyl mixed with heroin.
“The increasing presence of fentanyl in the illicit substance supply in New Mexico means that people often don’t know exactly what they are using. People can’t use drugs safely if they don’t know that fentanyl is in their supply,” said Secretary of Health Dr. Tracie Collins. “We can combat this problem with evidence-based harm reduction and overdose prevention strategies.”
Those strategies include providing known substance abusers with fentanyl test strips to check for the presence of fentanyl in substances. Numerous studies have shown that distributing fentanyl test strips is an effective way to promote awareness of the risk due to fentanyl and can also lead to changes in substance-use behaviors. Some of those changes include people using more slowly or, after detecting fentanyl in their supply of substances, to use a drug from a different source.
In addition, the New Mexico Department of Health is using social media to inform people about how to check illegal substances to determine whether a substance is what it’s purported to be, in order to help users make more responsible consumption decisions and inform others of the risks of the tested substance. A list of substance use prevention, treatment and recovery resources can be found at Another Way NM – https://anotherwaynm.org/
In addition to fentanyl, the number of overdose deaths attributable to methamphetamine has also increased in 2020 over 2019. Provisional data indicate that deaths increased by 11% in 2020, after having increased by 36% in 2019. This percentage may also be higher once 2020 death data are finalized.
Over 93,000 overdose deaths occurred in the US in the 12 months ending in December 2020, the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period, according to recent provisional data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
For more information about fentanyl, visit https://www.cdc.gov/opioids/basics/fentanyl.html.