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Officials: Anti-meth efforts pay off
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Officials: Anti-meth efforts pay off

'Let's not confuse progress with victory,' Freudenthal says

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CHEYENNE -- Efforts to fight methamphetamine abuse in Wyoming seem to be paying off, according to new state figures, but abuse of "crack" cocaine and prescription drugs is on the rise.

Officials from the state Department of Health and the Division of Criminal Investigation who released the numbers Tuesday said the advances against meth are the result of years of work.

The figures show that:

* Clandestine meth lab busts are down from a high of 60 in 2002 to just six last year.

* Methamphetamine investigations, which comprised 60 percent of all drug investigations in 2005, make up less than 40 percent so far in 2007.

* First-time meth use among high school students has dropped by one-third since 1999.

* Drug-treatment patients were less likely to list meth as their drug of choice in 2006 than in previous years.

"Because meth use is so uniquely dangerous, this is a significant trend, and it's headed in the right direction," DCI Director Forrest Bright said.

Officials credit a number of factors for the decline, including expanded drug treatment capacity, improved drug treatment standards, restrictions on meth "precursor" drugs, more drug courts and a community-based approach to fight meth.

The Legislature has pumped millions of dollars into anti-meth campaigns, starting with the Wyoming Meth Initiative in the late 1990s, and continuing with an additional $12 million a year in 2006 to increase drug treatment beds across the state.

In 2005, lawmakers restricted the sale of over-the-counter "precursor" drugs used to make meth, resulting in a sharp decrease in small, clandestine labs. They injected additional funding to vastly expanded the number of drug courts in the state.

At the community level, about a dozen autonomous community groups have formed to coordinate local anti-meth efforts.

Every county has a state-funded citizen group working on substance abuse and prevention issues.

"We have seen communities rally together and work toward a common goal: keeping their communities meth free," said Rodger McDaniel, Wyoming Department of Health deputy director for the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Division.

Gov. Dave Freudenthal, who in his 2006 re-election bid faced attacks for his insistence on a community-based approach to the meth problem, said that while the efforts appear to be working, it would be premature to declare victory.

"Now is not the time to let up," Freudenthal said. "Let's not confuse progress with victory."

Terry Myers of Lander, a critic of state efforts to fight meth, said he is somewhat skeptical of the new state figures.

Myers said major meth busts in Fremont County in the last two years have discouraged some of the biggest dealers, but he said addicts are turning to other drugs.

"I think the looming problem in Wyoming now is (abuse of) prescription drugs," said Myers, who coordinates Wyoming Meth Defense, an anti-meth community group in Lander.

Meth continues to be the drug of choice in some regions of the state, including parts of southwest, central and northeast Wyoming, Bright said.

He also confirmed that prescription drug abuse is on the rise, and expressed concern about the continued popularity of marijuana, which is widely available in increasingly potent strains.

Bright said the increase in crack cocaine consumption is "alarming."

Asked about the uptick in those drugs, McDaniel said he wants to get away from a focus on individual illegal substances. He said a more prudent approach is a statewide fight against all harmfully addictive substances, including tobacco and alcohol, which continues to be the state's biggest problem drug.

"I think what we need to get away from is the Drug of the Month Club," McDaniel said. "We seem to focus on whatever drug seems to be getting today's headlines."

Reach capital bureau reporter Jared Miller at (307) 632-1244 or at jared.miller@casperstartribune.net.

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