CASPER - Heroin use is spreading in Wyoming, following the national trend in which people addicted to prescription painkillers increasingly are turning to the street drug — often with deadly results.
Kebin Haller, deputy director of operations for the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation, said his agency has reports of seven fatal heroin overdoses so far this year. That's up from six deaths in all of 2013. There were two fatal overdoses in 2012 and five in 2011. Haller said the figures don't capture all the overdose deaths in the state, and they are working with federal and local law enforcement agencies as well as county coroners to track cases better.
Haller said the current situation is alarming and points to the likelihood of even more Wyoming heroin addicts and overdose deaths in the future. He said families need to control prescription pain medications to make sure they don't fall into the hands of children and young people, where the cycle of addiction can start.
"There seems to be a perception that if a company makes it, and a doctor prescribes it and a pharmacist gives it to you, that it somehow is OK," Haller said. "And we have to let those that we're responsible for — our kids — know that it's not OK, that these drugs do kill."
The Wyoming Department of Health doesn't track heroin deaths specifically. Kim Deti, spokeswoman for the department, said the number of admissions to residential heroin treatment programs funded at least in part with state dollars rose from 15 in 2010 to 45 so far in 2014. The number of outpatient admissions rose from 78 in 2010 to 104 so far this year.
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health has tracked reports of increasing heroin use nationwide over at least the past decade. Stu Healy, an assistant U.S. attorney in Cheyenne, prosecutes drug cases. He said heroin in Wyoming commonly comes from larger cities such as Salt Lake or Denver, where a one-tenth gram dose of the drug that sells for $10 can bring $50 in Wyoming.
"This is now affecting the whole state," Healy said. "There are investigations in every part of the state involving heroin, that's definitely fair to say, and involving deaths resulting from the use of heroin."
Healy is lead prosecutor on a federal case in which a dozen people from Wyoming and Utah were charged this summer with conspiring to distribute heroin that resulted in the overdose death of Joseph W. Phillips on Jan. 28. Authorities allege some defendants from southeastern Wyoming traveled to Salt Lake City to buy the drug and bring it back to Wyoming. Some defendants have pleaded guilty while others are still facing charges.
Jennifer Yates of Casper is organizing a 5K run and walk Saturday in Casper to raise awareness about heroin. The event is in memory of her son Dylan, who died at age 23 in May, the same day he was released from a drug treatment program in California.
Yates said her son developed his heroin addiction in Casper after becoming addicted to prescription painkillers he received during cancer treatments. She said he occasionally traveled to Salt Lake City to obtain drugs. He had been in treatment repeatedly and moved to Indiana a few years before his death.
"I'd really just like to see Wyoming acknowledge that heroin's coming through here and not allow it to be a marketplace," Yates said.
The Sun Herald/Oct. 13, 2014