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Santa Fe Prevention Alliance To Hold a Conference to Help With Opioid Epidemic

Seeking to create a healthy, drug-free and safe Santa Fe county through the collective impact of more than 25 organizations, the Santa Fe Prevention Alliance will hold a state-of-the-art conference for clinical and behavioral health providers at the Santa Fe Community Center on Saturday, May 7th. In the midst of an opioid overdose epidemic, the conference is aimed at giving hundreds of heath care providers statewide the responsible clinical tools for safety and success in terms of pain management and thus prevention of prescription opiate abuse.

The learning objectives of the conference include among others, describing alternative therapies to prescription opiates for pain management (i.e warm-water massage, THC-free cannabidiol, acupuncture, yoga, tai chi, qi gong, naprapathy), comprehending the spectrum of substance use disorders, demonstrating an understanding of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) programs and substance use disorder therapies, assessing the need for naloxone (Narcan) prescription for patients who use opiates, and understanding current regulations regarding use of the Prescription Monitoring Program when prescribing opioids.

Shelley Mann-Lev, a prevention coordinator with the Santa Fe Public Schools and director of the Santa Fe Prevention Alliance said that the upcoming conference is an opportunity for health care providers with little training in pain management to learn more about treating patients safely and applying the principles of evidence-based opioid prescribing to minimize the risk to the patient and the community. Over the last 10 years, Shelley Mann-Lev has seen an increasing trend in teens using prescription opiates to get high and this often leads to heroin use. Most of them get the prescription opioids from their parents' medicine cabinets while others are prescribed opiate painkillers following treatment of a sports injury or tooth extraction. According to a recent survey, 6% of high school students in Santa Fe reported that they had used heroin to get high within the previous month.

Dr. Wendy Johnson, Santa Fe's La Familia Medical Center director and conference organizer said that with the introduction of new opioids such as the time-release painkiller OxyContin in the 1990s, marketed as "magic pills" with low potential abuse, medical doctors began prescribing them at alarmingly high rates to patients struggling with chronic pain. In Northern New Mexico, which was already battling one of the worst drug epidemics in the nation, the new opiates combined with supplies of potent heroin from Mexico have had a disastrous impact on the community, with patients cut off from prescription opiates beginning to turn to street drugs like heroin.

According to New Mexico Health Department, approximately 540 people died of drug overdose in 2014; this represents a 20% increase from 2013 and one of the highest overdose death rates in the US. More than half of the overdose deaths in the state were from prescription medications, especially opiates. As President Obama asked Congress asked earlier this year to expand the use of opiate overdose antidote naloxone (Narcan), New Mexico lawmakers approved a bill to expand accessibility to Narcan. Law enforcement agencies across New Mexico have already begun officer training programs on Narcan use to save more lives.

The upcoming conference also hopes to raise awareness of the need for insurance coverage of drug-free, alternative therapies. The lack of insurance coverage for such therapies is a serious issue that both doctors and patients face when trying to avoid opiate painkillers with a high potential for abuse such as hydrocodone and oxycodone.

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