SHERIDAN — Concern over prescription drug abuse in Sheridan County mirrors the larger problem facing Wyoming and the nation. While reports fluctuate, local law enforcement said it is sometimes difficult to track down and prosecute the crime.
Due to the nature of the crime — people borrowing drugs from friends and family or individuals thinking they’ve only misplaced their medication and not reporting it missing — law enforcement is not able to always investigate and press charges.
Sheriff Dave Hofmeier said he has noticed an increasing problem in the county, but worries that many cases of prescription drug abuse continue to go unreported. While he recalled incidences of stolen drugs by house sitters and neighbors, Hofmeier said youth are also using the drugs illegally at parties, a kind of use that often goes unreported or that parents handle privately.
While illegal substances like methamphetamine and cocaine are costly and present more of a threat for someone trying to steal, prescriptions are an easier target, Hofmeier said. They also seem — inaccurately — less dangerous.
Although Wyoming has a relatively low number of prescriptions sold, the state has the 15th highest drug overdose rate in America according to Wyoming Prescription Drug Abuse Stakeholders.
In the county, Hofmeier has dealt mainly with 20- and 30-year-olds in abuse cases, however Sheridan Police Department Lt. Tom Ringley hasn’t noticed an age group more prone to the crime within the city.
“Prescription drug abuse seems to be popular throughout the whole spectrum of any age group that would abuse narcotics in general because they are easily available,” Ringley said. “And the social stigma attached to prescription drug abuse is not as big of a stigma as methamphetamine abuse or any of the hard drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine or heroin.”
While the sheriff’s office has cracked down on prescription-related crimes to warn the public of the repercussions, the police department has contacted almost every neighborhood in town with pamphlets and tips on how to prevent stolen medication. Along with their Drug Take Back events, the department obtained a drug incinerator this spring.
As law enforcement is often tasked with handling prescription drug abuse once it has already become a problem, local pharmacies comply to strict regulations to help prevent abuse.
Through the prescription drug monitoring program in place through the Wyoming Controlled Substance Act and early fill policies, pharmacists keep a close eye on who is checking out, buying and using medication.
Jared Rawlings, a pharmacist at Hospital Pharmacy West, explained the importance of the PDMP. Used as a statewide database, the program collects data on substances sold throughout the state as well as which individuals are authorized to distribute medication. Health professionals can be flagged if multiple doctors are prescribing the same medication to an individual. This can lead to the doctor being asked to leave the practice — if he or she is doing something illegal — or lead to an investigation of a patient for “doctor shopping.”
If a pharmacist notices an extra provider listed for a patient or another medication regimen, Rawlings said it’s not uncommon to contact the new doctor to make sure he/she is aware of these conditions.
Pharmacy technician Afton Bateman hasn’t had an issue with forged prescriptions or obvious abuse of medications, but said, “it’s always something to keep an eye on.”
The process pharmacists complete to fill a prescription is rigorous.
“It’s very important to make sure every prescription is legitimate,” Bateman said. “With every prescription we receive there is a checklist we have to go through. If anything is missing or incomplete we have to contact the prescriber for confirmation.”
Every pharmacy has a clear set of federal and state laws to adhere to: which prescriptions are being filled, who picks them up and who drops them off are all noted, Bateman said.
Based on Wyoming law, 15 pieces of information — such as date of birth, gender, quantity dispensed — are transmitted to the pharmacy board if person is not an inpatient of a hospital, correctional institution or nursing facility.
While these laws in conjunction with police enforcement are in place to curb abuse, Hofmeier said he expects to see prescription drug abuse remain a problem in the city and county.
“As long as you have the drugs out there and people don’t keep them under lock and key, there are going to be issues,” he said.