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As Congress Mulls Opioid Legislation, Rural New Mexico Hopes For Help

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Buprenorphine tablets

Congress is considering legislation that will make it easier to treat people for opioid addiction. And doctors in Rio Arriba County—an area hard-hit by drug addiction—are hoping the new laws will provide relief to patients there.

Part of the legislation would let nurses and physician assistants prescribe buprenorphine, a drug that’s used to treat addiction to heroin or prescription opioid painkillers. Currently only certain doctors can prescribe it.

"It would be a huge difference," said Dr. Leslie Hayes, who treats pregnant women and new mothers at El Centro Family Health in Española.

Easing the rules on who can prescribe buprenorphine would give a lot more patients access to the drug, she says—especially in Rio Arriba county, where doctors are overwhelmed with patients who need it.

"It would probably within 2 or 3 years increase the number of prescribers by, I would say, at minimum 50 percent," Hayes said.

The legislation is part of a broad push by Congress and the Obama Administration to provide more tools in the fight against the opioid epidemic.

Ed Williams came to KUNM in 2014 by way of Carbondale, Colorado, where he worked as a public radio reporter covering environmental issues. Originally from Austin, Texas, Ed has reported on environmental, social justice, immigration and Native American issues in the U.S. and Latin America for the Austin American-Statesman, Z Magazine, NPR’s Latino USA and others. In his spare time, look for Ed riding his mountain bike in the Sandias or sparring on the jiu-jitsu mat.
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