Methamphetamine abuse: Is there a problem in Wyoming?
Editor's note: This is the third article in a four part series on methamphetamine; a powerful and destructive drug sweeping across our community and nation. Authored by Dr. Charles Bliss of Cornerstone Behavioral Health, the series examines the physical effects of the drug, social impacts, current influence on Wyoming and Evanston, and treatment for those affected by the substance.
My interest was piqued as Tom Pagel, chairman of the Governor's Substance Abuse and Violent Crime Advisory Board and director of the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI), spoke on the topic in Evanston last March. He stated that since 1993, DCI has seen a rapid increase in availability and use of methamphetamine, and that methamphetamine investigations account for over half the current drug caseload for DCI. Arrests for stimulants/methamphetamine reported by Wyoming drug enforcement teams have grown from 17.8% of all drug arrests in 1993 to 50.3% of drug arrests in 1997, or a 280% increase in four years. Furthermore, repeat offender drug arrests monitored since 1988 had remained fairly stable at about 30%. Yet, over the past three years, that figure has risen to almost 45%.
Arrest by Type of Drug
Bernard Ellis, epidemiologist and consultant from Tennessee, also spoke about his ongoing Wyoming study. Concern was raised about Wyoming adolescents. His report indicated that Wyoming teens were more than two times as likely to have used methamphetamine in the past year compared to teens across the U.S. He also reported one in twenty high school seniors in Wyoming has used the drug in the past month; a rate five times higher than the national rate.
Of great concern was the information provided on the strong correlation between juvenile drug use and violent crime arrests. Methamphetamine use and violence go together. Student violence and aggression has increased in many schools, so much so that Laramie County School District has hired a violence prevention coordinator to help address this growing problem.
Data from the Executive Summary of Drug and Alcohol Use Among Wyoming Statewide Students, sponsored by the Wyoming Division of Behavioral Health, indicate the most significant increases in stimulant, i.e., methamphetamine abuse occur between sixth and eighth grade, with 2% of sixth graders having experimented with the drug and 10% of eighth graders admitting use. Furthermore, when looking only at the "high involvement" category, the increase is even more prominent going from one-tenth of one percent of sixth graders up to 1.4% by eighth grade, a 14 times increase. And rates continue to increase throughout high school.
Based on 1977 American Drug and Alcohol Survey prevalence data for the state of Wyoming, and on 1996 Uinta County school enrollment figures, a synthetic estimate for local prevalence can be derived.
Uinta County Students
These estimates give us an idea of just how close methamphetamine abuse is to home.