Drug Abuse Patterns and Trends in Albuquerque and New Mexico: June 2013

Brad Whorton, Ph.D.

Summary of Key Findings for the 2012 Reporting Period:

  • Drug overdose deaths rates for Bernalillo County (Albuquerque) and New Mexico were very high and increased in 2011.
  • There was a dramatic increase in methocarbamol poison control center cases in fiscal year 2011–2012 from the previous year.
  • Synthetic cannabinoids increased substantially in numbers of poison control center cases for fiscal year 2011–2012 and in numbers of reports identified from drug items seized and analyzed by National Forensic Laboratory Information System (NFLIS) laboratories in 2012.
  • A large increase occurred in reported naloxone overdose reversals in Bernalillo County in 2011.

Drug Overdose Deaths

Drug overdose deaths continue to increase at alarming rates throughout New Mexico. In 2010, New Mexico had the second highest drug overdose death rate in the Nation. The number of drug overdose deaths increased by 66.3 percent in Bernalillo County (the county that contains the city of Albuquerque) in 2011 over the previous year. Of the 521 drug overdose deaths statewide in 2011, nearly 40 percent occurred among Bernalillo County residents. In 2011, Bernalillo County’s age-adjusted drug overdose death rate was 29.6 per 100,000. The rate of hospital inpatient discharges to Bernalillo County residents in which drug overdose was listed as the primary diagnosis decreased nearly by 11 percent in 2011 from the previous year, to a rate of 8.3 per 10,000 persons. From 2010 to 2011, drug overdose death rates decreased for cocaine, heroin, benzodiazepines/depressants, antidepressants, and antipsychotics. During the same period, drug overdose death rates increased for those deaths which were unspecified, as well as those for prescription opioids. Overdose death rates were stable for methamphetamines/amphetamines.

Treatment Admissions

State-funded substance abuse treatment admissions were down 26.6 percent statewide in 2012. Heroin treatment admissions declined by 56.1 percent; those for prescription opioids fell by 66.0 percent; and amphetamines admissions (including methamphetamines) decreased by 44.5 percent. Harm reduction efforts increased in 2011. The number of Bernalillo County injection drug users who were enrolled into the Department of Health’s Narcan Program increased by 14.2 percent, and the number of reported overdose reversals increased by 525.0 percent. Almost one-half of these Narcan reversals involved rescue breathing, but fewer than 20 percent were called into 911. In 2011–2012, there were almost 13,600 new prescriptions for Suboxone® filled in Bernalillo County—mostly for drug maintenance therapy.

Drug Seizures

In 2012, 21.2 percent of drug seizures in Albuquerque were for heroin; 20.6 percent involved methamphetamines; 18.7 percent involved marijuana seizures; and 16.3 percent involved cocaine. 

Poison Control Centers

In 2011–2012, New Mexico poison control center cases involving Bernalillo County residents declined by 3.8 percent. Cases involving stimulants and street drugs increased by 14.0 percent; those for methocarbamol increased by 714.3 percent; and those for tetrahydrocannabinol homologs increased by 292.3 percent over the previous year. During the same period, cases involving marijuana decreased by 57.1 percent, and those for carisoprodol declined by 35.0 percent.

Prescription Opioid Sales

In recent years, sales of prescription opioids have increased, although during the last 2 years the rate of increase has slowed. Total prescription opioid sales in Albuquerque increased by less than 1 percent from 2010 to 2011, compared with 5.8 percent for the State. Oxycodone had the largest sales volume in Albuquerque, although its sales level decreased by 3.2 percent in 2011.

Youth Drug Use

According to the Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey, drug use among youth in Bernalillo County (and New Mexico) remains high, although it has declined in recent years for all substances. Approximately 26.5 percent of high school students reported using marijuana during the past 30 days. One-tenth (10.2 percent) reported having used painkillers to get high, and 6.1 percent were reported as current users of inhalants. According to the National Survey of Drug Use and Health, 11.40 percent of those age 12 and older reported current marijuana use, and 5.76 percent reported current nonmedical use of prescription pain relievers.

For inquiries regarding this report, contact Brad Whorton, Ph.D., Drug Use Epidemiologist, Epidemiology and Response Division, New Mexico Department of Health, 1190 St. Francis Drive, N1100, Santa Fe, NM 87502, Phone: 505–476–3607, Fax: 505–827–2796, E-mail:  brad.whorton@state.nm.us.