Prescription Drug Deaths Double in Wyoming

Prescription drug deaths have more than doubled in Wyoming from 2005 to 2008, according to statistics released by the Wyoming Department of Health. In 2005, the number of prescription drug deaths was 50; in 2008, the number rose to 103. The deaths also include cases where drugs were either a primary or secondary cause of death: There were 90 such deaths in 2006 and 96 in 2007.

The Associated Press reports that some Wyoming officials have expressed concern about the growing problem of prescription drug abuse. Deaths associated with prescription drugs are now outpacing those caused by cocaine or heroin. There were nine cocaine-related deaths and one heroin death over the past four years in the state.

"These statistics certainly demonstrate an alarming increase in prescription medication-related deaths and should be an eye opener for many Wyoming residents," said Rodger McDaniel, the department’s deputy director for mental health and substance abuse services.

In addition, the Division of Criminal Investigation said that it has seen a 400 percent increase in investigations into prescription drug activity over the last four years. From 2000 to 2004, the division averaged about five investigations per year; in 2008, the number rose to 22 and is on track to surpass that this year, said Kebin Haller, the division’s deputy director.

"Typically we’re involved with the methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, marijuana type of investigations, but we have seen in the past couple of years the large increase in demand to focus our attention on prescription drugs," Haller said.

He also said it’s not uncommon to find 80-milligram pills of OxyContin selling for $100 on the street. "That is the going rate throughout the state from what we’ve seen," he said. "This problem is not isolated to one particular area. We’ve seen an increase in these types of investigations statewide."

Haller said users and dealers of illegal prescription drugs get them by fraud, forgery, and theft. Users sometimes steal from their family members, or they access homes by posing as utility workers or interested parties at real estate open houses, he said.

Some users also get the drugs through doctor shopping, where patients visit multiple physicians in different locations, including in neighboring states, to get an abundance of the drug, Homar said.

Kelly Rankin, U.S. Attorney for Wyoming, recently formed the Rx Abuse Stakeholders group to address prescription drug abuse in Wyoming. It plans to meet this October in Buffalo for what Rankin expects to be the first of an annual series of meetings.

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