- Associated Press - Saturday, April 5, 2014

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Wyoming public health officials don’t systematically track heroin deaths, but it’s clear that the nation’s least populated state is not immune to the national trend of rising heroin use.

Across the nation, people addicted to expensive prescription painkillers increasingly are turning to heroin because it’s cheaper - often with fatal results.

In Wyoming, overdose deaths from prescription and illegal drugs rose from 29 in 2005 to 116 in 2012, the latest figures available, according to state Department of Health.

Ten of the 2012 deaths were from illegal drugs, which may include heroin and other drugs. Five of the 2012 deaths were a combination of illegal and prescription drugs.

“While heroin use at any level is a concern, at this time it would not be considered among our highest health priorities,” department spokeswoman Kim Deti said in a written response to The AP.

Heroin’s toll comes into razor-sharp focus in the criminal justice system.

On March 21, U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson of Cheyenne sentenced a Laramie man to five years in prison for providing heroin that resulted in a friend’s fatal overdose in April 2013. Kyle Adams, 25, pleaded guilty to providing the heroin that killed Kaleb Paul Skog, 25.

Skog, of Evanston, had graduated summa cum laude from the University of Wyoming and lived in pain from cystic fibrosis.

Adams told the judge he started taking the prescription painkiller Vicodin for a back injury when he was a teenager and later turned to heroin because it was cheaper. David Weiss, an assistant federal public defender, said Adams traveled to Denver to buy heroin but wasn’t dealing the drug for profit.

“I think something that needs to be said on behalf of Kyle is he was suffering with a several-year opiate addiction,” Weiss said. “And when he turned to heroin, it took off.”

Heroin overdoses that killed a young bull rider and two other people in Cheyenne in 2009 uncovered a network that brought heroin in from Denver.

Bull rider Bryan Guthrie, 21, had been ranked third in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association before he was knocked out of competition with a leg injury earlier in 2009.

Nearly five years later, Laramie County District Attorney Scott Homar said he sees an increase in heroin possession and sales cases.

“And I think that’s attributable to the prescription pill problem that we’re seeing,” he said.

And when people can’t get the prescription, “heroin’s a cheap, easy replacement.”

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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