Last week, legislators in New Mexico – which has one of the highest overdose rates in the nation – voted to take testimony on supervised, Injectible opioid as a strategy to reduce drug use and drug-related harm among long-term heroin users who have not been responsive to other types of treatment.
By a vote of 57-9, the New Mexico House of Representatives passed House Memorial 56, which was sponsored by Rep. Deborah Armstrong, chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee. The memorial does not need to pass the Senate or be signed by the governor.
Supervised injectible opioid treatment involves administering or dispensing of pharmaceutical-grade heroin, known as “diacetylmorphine”, or another injectible 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 supervision of trained professionals. Doing so enables providers to ensure that the drug is not diverted, and allows staff to intervene in the event of overdose or other adverse reaction.
Two states, Nevada and Maryland have introduced legislation to initiate supervised, injectible opioid treatment programs. Injection sites are operating in Canada, Australia and around Europe. Philadelphia wants to establish its sites, and Seattle has set aside funding for a site in that city.
Permanent injectible opioid treatment programs have been established in Canada, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark, and trial programs have been completed in Spain, Belgium, and the United Kingdom.
State 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.
Kimberly Page, a professor and chief of epidemiology, biostatistics and preventative medicine at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, told the Associated Press that injection sites could provide safety and economic benefits to 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.”
New Mexico has taken previous action to combat the epidemic. It was 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 the life-saving drug naloxone.
Advocates for recovery and harm reduction have been urging state 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 current legislative session calling for more study of the issue.
Laura Brown, M.D., a physician at Santa Fe Recovery Center, said the state needs more treatment options for opioid use disorder. Supervised injectible 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.”
“As a scientifically proven treatment, the efficacy of which is virtually unquestioned – supervised injectible opioid treatment remains virtually unexamined and un-utilized in the United States,” said Emily Kaltenbach, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance. That is because “domestic policy fails to recognize and treat drug use as a health issue. New Mexico can change that,” she said. “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.”