Saturday marks National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, which is sponsored by the New Mexico Department of Public Safety and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and asks individuals to turn in unused or expired medication to locations in their communities.
The event will provide free, anonymous drop-off sites throughout the state for safe medication disposal, according to a press release from Sen. Tom Udall's office.
"The nation's drug epidemic has moved from illegal drugs on our streets to prescriptions in our homes," Udall said. "Law enforcement and health organizations agree, prescription drug abuse is the most significant emerging drug threat in New Mexico."
Randy Gomez, director of Beacon of Light, a drug and alcohol rehab program in Clovis that serves Clovis and Portales residents, said although prescription drug abuse is not as extensive as illegal drug abuse in the area, it is still a big problem.
"What we're hearing is that usually it starts as a legitimate medical problem then it turns into abuse because there is a high involved with some prescription medications," Gomez said. "Some are very addictive, such as Oxycontin."
Oxycontin is a narcotic pain reliever and one of the more popular prescription medications to become addicted to, according to Gomez.
A recent New Mexico Department of Health report showed the overdose rate from prescription drugs in New Mexico increased nearly 62 percent between 2001 and 2010, and in the last five years, the overdose rate for prescription drugs, such as oxycodone, morphine and methadone, has exceeded the death rate from illicit drugs such as heroin and cocaine.
Gomez said only one out of 10 of the patients enrolled in his rehab program are addicted to prescription drugs.
He said in his experience as a counselor in a drug rehab program, most prescription drug addictions end up leading to addictions to illegal drugs.
"It is so easy to hide it and abuse it for awhile," Gomez said of prescription medication. "Although it starts as a legitimate medical condition, it turns abusive, then it turns into looking for the illegal drug to replace it."
The Department of Health report also said New Mexico has the highest overdose rate with prescription drugs with 468 fatalities in 2010.
"There's another side to this that I don't think people recognize is going on, that prescription drugs are making it into the black market," Gomez said, adding that he thinks it is becoming more common for people to initially take prescription drugs for the high rather than legitimate medical reasons.
"People are seeking people out who do have medical conditions to buy it off of them," he said, saying that his knowledge of the market comes from those enrolled in the rehab program.
He said Oxycontin sells for $100 per pill on the black market.
"We need an all hands on deck approach," Udall said for the prescription drug problem in the state. "I am committed to doing everything I can to confront this problem at the federal level, and I applaud the work of local law enforcement, health care providers, parents and community leaders who are educating others about the dangers of prescription drugs."
Local drop sites for prescription medications within 110 miles:
From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday:
- Cannon Air Force Base Special Operations Security Forces squadron, 122 E. Arcadia on the base.
From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday:
- New Mexico State Police office, 3024 S. Second St. in Tucumcari.
- New Mexico State Police office, 4207 W. Second St. in Roswell.
- Roswell Police Department, 426 N. Main in Roswell.
- Lubbock County Sheriff's Office, 3601 Fourth St. in Lubbock.