New Mexico Passes Legislation to Examine Administering Pharmaceutical-grade Heroin or Other Opioids by Medical Practitioners to People Struggling with Long-term Addiction

Press Release February 14, 2018
Media Contact

Tony Newman 646-335-5384
Emily Kaltenbach 505-920-5256

SANTA FE –  Last night, on a vote of 57-9, the New Mexico House of Representatives passed House Memorial 56 that charges the NM Legislative Health and Human Services Committee to take testimony on supervised injectable opioid treatment as a feasible, effective and cost-effective strategy for reducing drug use and drug-related harm among long-term heroin users who have not been responsive to other types of treatment. HM56 was sponsored by Representative Deborah Armstrong, chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee.  This memorial does not need to pass the Senate or be signed by the Governor.

Supervised injectable opioid treatment means the administering or dispensing of pharmaceutical-grade heroin, known as “diacetylmorphine”, or another injectable opioid such as hydromorphone, by medical practitioners under strict controls in a clinical setting to select heroin-dependent persons. The medication is required to be consumed on-site, under the watchful eye of trained professionals. This enables providers to ensure that the drug is not diverted, and allows staff to intervene in the event of overdose or other adverse reaction.

Representative Deborah Armstrong: “I look forward to learning more about injectable opioid treatment and how it can address problematic heroin use that has plagued our families and communities for generations. I’m excited that New Mexico has the opportunity to serve as a model for treating drug use as what it is—a health issue that should be combated with evidence-based, rigorously studied treatments with proven benefits for users, their families, and the community as a whole.”

Dr. Kimberly Page, Professor and Chief of Epidemiology, Biostatistics & Preventative Medicine, University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center: “The medical and social consequences of opioid use are multiple, with profound impacts on the lives of New Mexicans. 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. Such a program will undoubtedly result in significant health, safety, and cost benefits for New Mexico.”

Dr. Laura Brown, Physician, Santa Fe Recovery Center: “We need more treatment options for opioid use disorder here in New Mexico.  Too many New Mexicans are suffering from opioid use disorder, and dying from the consequences of untreated and inadequately treated opioid use disorder.  Supervised injectable opioid treatment represents a promising option, already shown in many European countries and Canada to improve health and treatment program retention, and reduce health care and criminal justice costs.”

Emily Kaltenbach, State Director, Drug Policy Alliance: “As a scientifically proven treatment, the efficacy of which is virtually unquestioned – supervised injectable opioid treatment remains virtually unexamined and unutilized in the United States because domestic policy fails to recognize and treat drug use as a health issue. New Mexico can change that. We cannot afford to continue arresting and incarcerating people for something that must be treated as a public health issue. The failed war on drugs has proved as much.”

Permanent injectable opioid treatment programs have been established in Canada, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark, with additional trial programs having been completed in Spain, Belgium, and the United Kingdom. The results have been unanimously positive. Empirical studies have conclusively demonstrated that injectable opioid treatment is a highly cost-effective intervention that dramatically reduces illicit drug use, crime, disease and overdose while improving health, well-being, social reintegration and treatment retention among heroin-dependent persons who failed prior treatment. Injectable opioid treatment can also be a stepping stone to other treatments and even abstinence and can reduce the black market for heroin.

Both Nevada and Maryland have introduced legislation in the past to initiate supervised opioid injectable opioid treatment programs.

For most of the past two decades, New Mexico has had one of the highest overdose death rates in the nation. Although NM is now 12th in the nation in overdose death rates, the state’s rate has not declined. The rate for New Mexico overdose-related deaths in 2016 was over twenty-five per one hundred thousand population, higher than the national average of almost twenty deaths per one hundred thousand population. There are areas within New Mexico with drug overdose death rates as high as ninety per one hundred thousand.  Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in New Mexico, and overdose deaths in New Mexico outnumber traffic fatalities.

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

Sign up for updates from DPA.