Event raises awareness about prescription drug abuse


MISSOULA, Mont. - A community event aims to raise awareness for what's being called an epidemic, prescription drug abuse.

The nonprofit Montana Meth Project hopes to start raising awareness on prescription drugs.

"While the Meth Project has enjoyed for years, very open and candid conversations with our teens about meth use, we just thought it was timely to add this to our conversation," said Montana Meth Project Executive Director Amy Rue.

The project helped organize Friday's event at the University of Montana, highlighting the growing problem in the state. But that's where the project's involvement stops.

Now it's up to community leaders like Tony King from the Montana Pharmacy Association, Montana First Lady Lisa Bullock, Missoula Prescription Drug Diversion Detective Dean Chrestenson and Dean of UM's Pharmacy School David Forbes; all weighed in on the topic Friday.

"These are potent drugs and not everybody knows how to handle these drugs," Forbes said.

Something Detective Chrestenson knows well. He specializes in prescription drug investigations.

"Unfortunately prescription drugs are the drugs that are causing the most deaths in the state," Chrestenson said. "Versus methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine all put together."

Most recently he worked an almost deadly case involving Missoula middle school aged kids. It was what some teens call a ‘Skittles party' where they pick from a bowl full of random pills and eat them like candy. In this case those pills came straight from a parent's medicine cabinet.

"They were all hospitalized because of that, fortunately nobody died," Chrestenson said. "It just goes to show that it is a problem from all areas in our community."

That's just one of too many incidents. And it's not just teens.

"Prescription drugs know, no boundaries, no age, no gender, nothing like that," said Chrestenson.

The hope is Friday's conversation will help raise awareness and ultimately decrease the pill problem.

"If people learn more about the problem they then will have a better opportunity to get a chance to deal with the problem," Forbes said.

While there is no specific plan outlined for what's next, education will be a key component. And all of the community members are asking that Montana's bring unwanted medications to drop off locations across the state Saturday, as part of National Prescription Drug Take Back Day.

Click here to find a drop-off location near you.


One tool Montana uses to try and prevent people from abusing the system is the state's drug registry.

Thanks to a $380,727grant from the Montana Board of Crime Control the registry can increase its sharing capacity to be able to trade information with other states. It will also give doctors the ability to authorize other users, like nurses and emergency room workers to have access to the program.

The registry launched in 2011. It is a way for doctors to keep track of what medications a person has been prescribed, to prevent them from abusing the system or "doctor shopping."