Las Cruces Sun News –
Overdose deaths caused by prescription opioids other than fentanyl decreased from 193 in 2018 to 177 in 2019. However, total overdose deaths among New Mexicans rose 13% — from 537 in 2018 to 605 in 2019. This exceeds the state’s previous high of 540 deaths in 2014.
The increase last year is attributed to the use of illicit substances including methamphetamine, fentanyl and heroin.
Methamphetamine was involved in 44% of all drug overdose deaths in 2019. The percentage of overdose deaths that involved fentanyl was 21% in 2019, up from 13% in 2018.
Addicted since age 15
When Las Cruces resident Jerry Gonzales was 15 years old when he smoked his first opioid pill with friends. He would eventually become addicted to the pills — and to the lavish lifestyle that selling them afforded him — before he dropped out of high school.
“There’s a lot of people who struggle with this type of addiction and I feel like listening to what people have to say got me through my situation,” he said, which is why he said he wanted to tell his story.
Because of his addiction, Gonzales served time in prison. Eventually, he lost custody his son because of it and was ordered by the court to attend drug rehabilitation, which he “flew through.” But once rehab was over, he said he began using again.
The last time Gonzales was in jail, he said he made the conscious decision to be sober. Today, at 28 years old, he has been sober for about a year. He has a car — with an interlock system in it — that he’s proud of, and he goes to work every day as a landscaper.
Prior to smoking his first opioid pill, Gonzales said he and his friends smoked marijuana. One day his friend offered him a 30 milligram Oxycodone pill. Gonzales said he remembers liking how it made him feel. From that point on, he dedicated his life to it.
“We’d go and get one pill, and the four of us would hang out and then we’d go skate. Well, after so long, I got addicted from hanging out with my buddies and smoking this one pill … I found myself wanting to get one or two just to have by myself,” he said.
Initially, Gonzales said he was against using heroin because he had access to as many pills as he wanted.
“Being young and living that kind of lifestyle, I guess, and having that readily available — you know, that influences you as far as, here I am thinking I’m the sh**. I have all kinds of money; I have these drugs everybody wanted at the time. Life was good … I thought was alright,” he said.
Gonzales said there are different kinds of people who are addicts — especially to opioids.
“People you would never even know. Some old lady who doesn’t even know she’s addicted to her pills (but) gets sick every other night and doesn’t even know why — just thinks she’s taking them for her pain,” he said.
Gonzales said his addiction almost killed him.
“Not necessarily overdosing, but I mean, like just things that happened, you know? I’ve seen people — I’ve saved people’s lives (from overdosing). My homegirl, I saved her two times in one week,” he said.
Though he is sober now, Gonzales said that not a day goes by that he doesn’t think about getting high. But he came to a point of knowing a sober life is a better one.
“I was just as bad as the next guy who was doing whatever. But at one point in my life, I decided I wanted better for my life and didn’t want to be doing the same thing. And it’s really until you get to that point that you are willing to go forth and get what’s necessary,” he said.
A medical treatment for pain
For decades, medical doctors used opioids to treat patients for pain. Dr. Ernest Flores, the medical director for Border Area Mental Health Services, Inc., said individuals experience pain on different thresholds and doctors found opioids to be effective if used properly.
Though opiods effectively treat pain, Flores said there’s a risk of dependency and addiction if used for too long.
“That’s been the problem, over time, Whether you’re looking at someone whose used heroin that was for recreational use became a drug of abuse … and so then how do we have (to) respond to the heroin crisis? Well, I think that’s gotten better with the use of different things, like methadone clinics and more awareness or treatment for these folks who have been dependent on things like heroin,” he said.
Opioids also contain mood enhancers and can be used for mood stabilization, mood treatment and to prevent nausea and vomiting.
In the early 2000s, Flores said medical professionals started to become aware of how addictive opioids can be and began to rethink how to prescribe them.
The problem now, he said, is that illicit drugs such as fentanyl are being manufactured overseas and smuggled into the United States.
“Those are very dangerous because they’re very potent,” Flores explained. “It doesn’t take a lot for somebody to overdose on fentanyl that’s been illicitly produced overseas. It doesn’t take much for someone to die from that.”
Because of the highly addictive nature of opioids, Flores said practitioners have begun looking at other options in treating pain, whether it be natural remedies or non-opioid types of drugs, such as anti-inflammatory drugs.
The state also began tracking patients’ prescriptions to prevent overprescribing.
Each patient is different. Patients with legitimate pain may need long-term care with narcotics, but others who have been getting opioid prescriptions every month might benefit from alternative pain management treatments, he explained.
“But the problem is some patients still need opioids,” Flores said. “Sometimes health professionals are afraid. In other words, they’re not listening to how the patient is suffering. They’re just seeing if this patient is a drug addict and just saying they’re in pain so I’ll give them narcotic.”
It’s a tough spot for medical professionals to be in, Flores said.Addiction Fentanyl Meth Opioid Crisis Overdoses Oxycodone