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Coroner: Increase in deaths from prescription drug abuse

Apr 15, 2012 - By Martin Reed, Staff Writer

Fremont County Coroner Ed McAuslan cited prescription drug use as a growing factor in non-natural deaths his office investigates.

"We're seeing such a rise in the use of prescription drugs," McAuslan told county commissioners April 10. "The prescriptions are so accessible. They're legal."

Problems include "doctor shopping or pharmacy shopping," which allows for the proliferation of prescription drug abuse, McAuslan said.

He made his observations while presenting his first-quarter report for the year that outlines death statistics recorded by his office.

The coroner reported that 21 percent of the deaths his office investigated during the time period involved drugs and alcohol.

That number compares to 23 percent during the same quarter last year.

However, most non-natural deaths involved drugs and alcohol, jumping to 91 percent in those types of cases compared to 83 percent for the same time in 2011, according to his report.

McAuslan defines non-natural deaths as those involving accidents, homicides, suicides or undetermined causes.

He told commissioners that changes are happening that may help curb problems associated with prescription drugs.

"I had a meeting last week in Laramie," McAuslan said, adding he heard that some pharmacies are tracking people in a computer system to review their prescription histories and retrieval.

"There are some very positive steps in the works," he said, noting the prescription tracking system information will be available to his office. "Unfortunately by the time it gets to us it's too late for them."

For non-natural cases investigated by McAuslan's office, the number of accidental deaths totaled six for the first quarter compared to five last year, according to his report.

Suicides totaled four in the first quarter, compared to three during the same time last year.

"Suicide numbers continue to rise after the spike of a total of 14 for last year," according to McAuslan's report.

His office recorded one homicide during the first three months of 2012 and 2011. The single homicide this year was a vehicular death, according to his report.

Motor-vehicle deaths dropped during the first quarter to three compared to five during the same time last year.

In all, non-natural deaths accounted for 23 percent of the coroner's cases during the first quarter compared to 28 percent during the same time last year.

"Child fatalities are also the same as last year, with two for this quarter," according to his report.

Concerning the homicides, McAuslan noted the last calendar year had a record high of 23 in Fremont County, but 18 of them occurred during this fiscal year, which ends June 30.

"I hope it's going to quit here pretty soon," McAuslan said.

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