Riverton tries again to tackle its drinking problem

Nov 16, 2012

For years some in Fremont County have been concerned about the populations rate of alcohol consumption.  In most categories the county ranks at or higher than most counties in the state in areas of concern such as alcohol related arrests or binge drinking.  The county is tops in the state in alcohol related crashes and ranks a solid fifth in alcohol related crimes.   Over the years community leaders in Riverton have periodically tried to address some of these problems.  Since spring a new effort is under way.  Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck has more.

BOB BECK: This is Bar 10 in downtown Riverton. It’s an upscale pub with a traditional bar and several tables for eating and drinking.  At the end of the bar: two friends. Mark and Dave quickly disagree over whether there is a drinking problem in Riverton.  Dave says people pay close attention to the issue, but he’s not convinced it’s a great concern.

DAVE:  Yeah, we got a problem but I still don’t think it’s probably any more than in other places, probably better disguised in other places. 

BECK:  His friend Mark quickly jumps in…

MARK:  It’s the repeat offenders that bother me.  I mean repeat offenders time after time after time.

DAVE:  I get what you are talking about.  But do you really think it’s significantly higher here than in Casper?  Significantly higher than in Denver?  (Laughing)

MARK:  I think so, but I don’t know. 

BECK:  Some in the bar suggest that Riverton has a drinking culture, but Derek Peer disagrees.

DEREK PEER: I don’t think any more than anywhere else, I think that drinking is how we socialize out here.  That’s what you do after work…you go out and have a couple at happy hour and then you go home.

MIKE BROADHEAD:  We have blood alcohol content levels here beyond anything I would have imagined and frankly the number of people who are regularly intoxicated…it’s disturbing to me. 

BECK:  That’s Riverton Police Chief Mike Broadhead.  He came to the Rendezvous City almost three years ago.  The legal limit for someone to be able to drink and drive is point-zero-eight.  Broadhead says Riverton’s levels exceed anything he’s ever seen.

BROADHEAD:  You know I can say I was a police officer in the Denver Metro area for almost 22 years and I think the highest BAC I ever saw was a .325 and we have people above a .4 here every day and people pushing .5’s.  I mean .30 is dangerous, .4 can be fatal. 

BECK:  To be clear, not all of those people are driving, but it’s still a concern.  Broadhead says for a small town, Riverton has high levels of homelessness, and other forms of substance abuse.  And he quickly adds that only some of it can be blamed on the nearby Wind River Reservation.    In the past law enforcement was asked to clean up the mess, but a group that includes social workers, treatment specialists, including some from the Reservation are working together to try and craft a solution. 

Officials say the cooperation is unprecedented, but Lisa Amos who runs the Fremont County Alcohol Crisis Center says changing a culture is tough.

LISA AMOS:  Drinking is accepted.  Drinking is accepted even within the family of underage persons.  That’s it’s kind of a rite of passage almost and I think that contributes highly to our problem.

BECK:  Statistics from a statewide report on alcohol consequences has a number of disturbing stats for Fremont County, but two that stand out are the number of alcohol related crashes that occur in the county and the fact that the county leads the state in alcohol related vehicle fatalities.  Amos says they obviously need to reach people before things get to that point.  She says they are studying a number of things.

AMOS:  What’s the underlying issue, is it socio-economic, is it a mental health issue.  What’s the real issue?  We are just trying to separate into groups and decide what the next step will be.

BECK:  All involved in the effort say it will take some time, but they remain optimistic that some sort of a model that includes treatment and awareness can work.  For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Bob Beck.