Bill targets teen drug users

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Heroin and prescription drug use are reaching epidemic levels in New Mexico

By Carol A. Clark

Teenage addiction to heroin and prescription drugs is hitting epidemic levels throughout New Mexico, according to experts. A bill from Albuquerque Sen. Bernadette Sanchez, D-Bernalillo aimed at treating the problem passed the New Mexico Senate 31-3 Thursday.

SB 232 buprenorphine treatment for opioid addiction is meant to counter the soaring heroin addiction problem in the state, Sanchez said.

“Hopefully this bill will help save lives,” he said, adding that, “it’s a statewide problem we need to address.”
SB232 will clear the way to find more doctors who will prescribe buprenorphine drugs designed to help young people and their families get their lives back.

Heroin and prescription drugs also are in use by teenagers in Los Alamos, said longtime youth advocate Morrie Pongratz, but he added that those are not the most prevalent drugs.

“The number one issue with our youth is alcohol,” Pongratz said. “However, marijuana use is certainly very high up in terms of usage – more than 20 percent of high school students admit to smoking marijuana in their car.”

Pongratz is referring to student responses to the recent PRIDE Survey, which helps local schools measure student alcohol, tobacco and other drug use. Pongratz, a member of the DWI Planning Council, has been a facilitator of the PRIDE Survey since its inception.

In addition to drug and alcohol use, the survey also measures behavior on many crucial issues that can affect learning such as family, discipline, safety, activities and gangs.

Los Alamos Middle School and Los Alamos High School students have been taking the Pride survey since 1987 and in 1998, a federal law designated the Pride Survey as an official measurement of adolescent drug use in America.

Drug experts say children often have easy access to their parents’ pain medications, which can jump-start their addiction problems. Those same sources say black tar heroin is easy to find in many schools and a dose of the highly addictive drug is easier and cheaper to get than a six-pack of beer for teenagers.

Medical Director Miriam Komaromy of the Turquoise Lodge Hospital addiction treatment center said her center treats many with addiction problems.

“When mom and dad have pain pills sitting in their medicine cabinet and their teenager is starting to experiment, they start experimenting with those pain pills,” Komaromy said. “The teens become addicted incredibly quickly and they realize they can’t pay for pain pills so they start buying heroin.”

Det. Sgt. Fred Rascon of the Los Alamos Police Department said that many of the local burglaries are a result of addicted teens who exchange the stolen merchandise for drugs.

“The 18-year-old we apprehended last year for breaking into local vehicles and taking items from inside was a heroin user who needed a fix,” Rascon said.

SB232 would help untangle the red tape that delays care and would make it easier for doctors and clinics to prescribe and treat addicted teens with buprenorphine (soboxone). Buprenorphine is one of the newest and most effective treatments for heroin and opioid dependency and is widely backed by the medical community, addicts and their families, according to Sanchez. He said that individuals addicted and their families have trouble getting access to Buprenorpin to help ease the addiction to heroin and other drugs “because treatment is time consuming and challenging and many doctors say they are not getting paid for their office visits” by insurance and Medicaid.

Sanchez’ bill is aimed at correcting that problem by easing red tape and finding incentives to increase the number of doctors who prescribe buprenorphine as well as help with the cost of treatment.
SB232 now moves to the New Mexico House of Representatives for approval.