Montana Health News

Feb 19, 2013 9:27 PM by Bernie Riggs - KPAX News

Prescription drug abuse an "epidemic" in Montana

MISSOULA - It's been labeled the invisible epidemic by some.

The Montana Department of Justice reports that prescription drug abuse is 15 times more deadly than meth, heroin and cocaine combined. It also accounts for 100 more deaths than Montana's roadways.

A man walked into Palmers Drug in Missoula just before the start of the new year, threatened a pharmacist, and demanded medication. He made off with Fentanyl patches and over 650 Oxycodone pills, both potent painkillers.

The most commonly abused prescription drugs are painkillers, but drugs designed to help with depression, anxiety or attention deficit disorders are also popular, said Dean Chrestenson, a Missoula Police Department prescription drug diversion detective.

"We have over 300 Montanans every year who are dying from prescription drug abuse and those are documented at the crime lab, so it's hazardous, it's an epidemic, and we need to try and slow it down as best we can."

There were two confirmed cases of Fentanyl overdoses last week alone in Missoula. Administered as a patch, the drug is designed to dissolve slowly into the bloodstream over days, but if it isn't used as prescribed the results can be deadly.

Officials have seen some positive developments against prescription drug abuse. The establishment of the prescription drug registry now allows doctors and pharmacists to more easily identify drug seekers.

Detective Chrestenson says medical officials have been proactive in trying to help.

"We work with all kinds of people who try to help combat this problem because the police can't do it. We can't do it by ourselves.

It's just too big, but if you have a person you care about that you think is abusing medications you need to talk to them, talk to their physician and see if there is something you can do to try and help."

However, Chrestenson adds that if an addiction becomes too overwhelming or too dangerous, law enforcement may have to step in.

For additional resources on stopping prescription drug abuse click here.

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