Wyoming’s county commissioners recently attended a discussion on opioid addiction with a representative from Kentucky, the state with the fifth highest rate of opioid overdoses in the country. Such rates haven't hit Wyoming yet.
But Joe Markiewicz, a statewide coalition trainer for the University of Kentucky, says rural states like Kentucky and Wyoming are more prone to addiction because hospitals, care centers and government agencies are spread out, making it harder for them to act as a united front to stop it.
“Your youth data for Wyoming looks very positive,” he said. “Drug and alcohol rates are coming down. They’re not really doing the hard drugs. The only thing that’s concerning is mental health issues like suicide and depression are kind of climbing and that’s a gateway to using drugs.”
Markiewicz said that’s especially true in states with high unemployment, which can lead to a culture of despair. He said, like Wyoming, Kentucky is struggling from high unemployment following a downturn in the coal industry.
“We have some very poor counties in Kentucky and the Appalachia regions and a lot of them are dealing with despair and loss of hope,” said Markiewicz. “And these drugs in a lot of cases make them feel better.”
Markiewicz said it helps that neighboring states aren’t dealing with epidemic levels either, although Colorado is starting to. But he said to be proactive, the first step is to educate Wyoming doctors not to prescribe more than three days of opioids at a time.
Right now, many doctors prescribe 30 or even 60 days’ worth of opioids.