FARMINGTON — Prescription drug abuse appears to be rising in spite of tighter regulations and increased law enforcement scrutiny.

In response, Mayor Tommy Roberts will appear in a series of public service announcements to combat the trend.

"It's a valuable message," Roberts said. "It focuses on teen use of prescription drugs and recognizes that young people may be under the mistaken impression that (prescription drugs) are safer. It can be as dangerous and as fatal as other drug use."

Although San Juan County recorded the second lowest Oxycodone sales rate in New Mexico for 2010 according to a report by the state's Department of Health, a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report indicated that New Mexico recorded the nation's highest rate of prescription opioid overdose deaths, abuse and sales.

"We treat overdoses almost daily," said Dr. Eric Ketcham, San Juan Regional Medical Center's emergency-room director. "We've had a tremendous increase in recent years. There's also been an increase in patients seeking narcotics. It's a big problem."

The hospital began a screening program in February 2011 to track and document prescription drug seekers, he said. If a patient is recorded seeking drugs, their chart is labeled and they are not given opioids.

Many drug seeking patients will go to hospitals, clinics and dentist offices throughout the Four Corners region seeking narcotics, Ketcham said.

"We feel it's important for our patients," he said. "A few have come back and thanked us."

The demand for prescription pain killers in San Juan County does not seem to have waned.

"We add more (to the list) every couple of weeks," Ketcham said. "What we need more of in the county is people who are licensed and trained, and more treatment programs."

Roberts' campaign is part of a national awareness initiative called "Safeguard My Meds" that offers information about steps residents can take to protect prescription medicines in their home. The public service announcement will air on radio stations in the Farmington area to remind residents that San Juan County takes part in the National Drug Take-Back Day twice per year.

National Drug Take-Back Day is a Drug Enforcement Administration program hosted locally by the Region II Narcotics Task Force, San Juan County Sheriff's Office, and the Farmington, Aztec, and Bloomfield Police Departments. The next Prescription Drug Take back event will be held on April 27, 2013.