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New Mexico sees steep rise in overdose deaths amid pandemic

ALBUQUERQUE – New Mexico is seeing soaring numbers of deadly overdoses from fentanyl and methamphetamine, according to a report presented to state lawmakers during a meeting Thursday.

Preliminary figures show that fentanyl-related deaths alone increased by 129% between 2019 and 2020, legislative analysts said. That percentage is expected to climb even higher when final totals for the last year are calculated.

The trend mirrors what has been happening nationally. Drug overdose deaths in the United States rose nearly 30% in 2020 to a record 93,000, according to statistics released by federal health officials. That marked the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period in the U.S.

The report says the pandemic contributed to the surge of overdose deaths in New Mexico by disrupting outreach to treatment and increased social isolation.

It also noted that the lingering pandemic has highlighted the need for behavioral health care given the high levels of grief, isolation, unemployment and anxiety that many people have been experiencing.

The report was presented to members of the Legislative Finance Committee, a key panel that sets the state’s spending priorities and crafts the budget each year.

Provider rates have been increased and other changes have been made in recent years to bolster the state's behavioral health safety net. However, the analysts said more work needs to be done to improve the quality of care, boost access, increase financial incentives and build a behavioral health care workforce that better represents the state's cultural and racial demographics.