AP FACT CHECK: Candidate claims overdoses fell on her watch
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Congresswoman and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Michelle Lujan Grisham is touting in a new television ad a reduction in drug overdoses during her tenure as New Mexico’s health secretary.
The Republican Governors Association, an ally of U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce and other GOP gubernatorial candidates, calls the ad misleading and says drug overdose deaths actually increased under Lujan Grisham’s watch.
Both candidates are pledging to address stubbornly high rates of overdose deaths in New Mexico that exceed the national average.
A look at how the statement compares to the facts:
LUJAN GRISHAM: “When I was secretary of health, we lowered overdoses through better treatment.” Lujan Grisham led the department from August 2004 through June 2007.
THE FACTS: That was only true for illicit drugs such as heroin in some years, and not those counted as dying from a combination of drugs. Lujan Grisham’s campaign cited a 21 percent decline in heroin deaths from 2005-2006.
But statewide annual drug overdose deaths increased steadily from 304 in 2004 to 439 in 2007, according to the state Department of Health. The rate of opioid-related overdose deaths from illicit drugs and pain-relief medication also increased.
Lujan Grisham spokesman Victor Reyes said claims in the campaign ad about a drop in overdoses were based on a decade-old local newspaper report showing a one-year decline in heroin-related deaths, and a Health Department newsletter that showed a decline in deaths from illicit drugs in 2007 when multiple-drug deaths were excluded. The agency newsletter shows a steady rise in overall drug-related overdoses from 2004 through 2007.
Reyes said overdoses from illicit drugs such as heroin provided a “more accurate barometer” of Lujan Grisham’s effectiveness because illicit drugs were the primary health concern at the time. He said in retrospect the rising toll of prescription opioids became apparent later.
“She was succeeding in addressing what was the current crisis, which was illicit drug use,” Reyes said. The congresswoman did not respond to an interview request.
Overdose death rates in New Mexico are among the highest in the western United States, even as the state has implemented pioneering policies to rein in fatalities.
The state has a prescription monitoring database to prevent dangerous overlapping drug sales and has increasingly expanded access to naloxone, a drug that can reverse overdoses.
Lujan Grisham’s campaign pointed to her efforts in extending training for rural medical practitioners to administer anti-craving medication for opiate addiction and in publicizing a “good Samaritan” law allowing immunity for those calling 911 seeking help for overdoses.
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