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New drug gaining a foothold in the Borderland

New drug gaining a foothold in the Borderland

POSTED: Thursday, May 9, 2013 - 8:49pm

UPDATED: Friday, May 10, 2013 - 12:21pm

From Santa Teresa, to Anthony, to the streets of Las Cruces, a new drug is gaining a foothold in Dona Aña county.

It's called Suboxone, a controversial narcotic approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2002 to wean people off of heroin. It's a completely legal drug, so long as you have a prescription.

We met 18 year-old Veronica in Las Cruces. She has a prescription for Suboxone. She started using heroin a year and a half ago and when things started spinning out of control she knew she needed help.

"No one tells you, oh, you're going to get sick and addicted. They're just like yeah, try it," she said when talking about getting hooked on heroin. "Suboxone just makes all the withdrawals go away and you just feel normal."

Doctors say Suboxone is a safer, legal alternative to heroin, and it's designed to help addicts stop using drugs all together.

The problem is, Suboxone is also addictive, so much so it's become a street drug. So far this year the Dona Aña County Sheriff's Office has handled 54 Suboxone cases. That's already shattered last year's 8 cases, which was up from zero in 2011. Those numbers don't include dozens of other cases being handled by the Drug Enforcement Agency.

"We're not seeing a correlation in heroin arrests going down. On the contrary, they're both going up," said Kelly Jameson, with the sheriff's office.

Nicole Fuchs works for Familes & Youth Incorporated in Las Cruces. She operates a syringe exchange program in the community, making sure heroin users who refuse to quit are at least doing it safely. She agrees Suboxone is a wild frontier.

"Lots of uncertainty, lots of uncertainty. Not just from heroin users inquiring it, but doctors wondering about prescribing it," she said.

Only a couple of doctors in Dona Aña County will prescribe Suboxone, and there's several reasons for that. Extensive training is required and many simply don't feel comfortable prescribing it.

"And there's no real monetary benefit to the doctor to prescribe it," said Fuchs.

Doctors can only prescribe Suboxone to 30 people the first year they're certified,- and no more than 100 patients every year there after. As a result, the Department of Health in Las Cruces has a waiting list of more than a 100 patients who want the drug. Most will wait four to six months to even be seen by a doctor.

"Unfortunately there aren't a lot of alternatives to Suboxone," said Fuchs.

And then there's the problem of the drug ending up in the wrong hands. Even Veronica admits she's had friends try and buy it from her.

"My mom actually keeps them so I can't grab them," she says.

And so the verdict is still out on Suboxone, a drug meant to help, but one with several unintended side effects.

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