HELENA, Mont. (Legal Newsline) - Montana's attorney general has announced plans to create a drug diversion unit as a means to fight rampant prescription drug abuse.
Attorney General Steve Bullock has secured $1,230,902 to create the six-person drug diversion unit, which will include three investigators, a public outreach and education coordinator, a prosecutor on hand for cases throughout the state and an administrative assistant.
The U.S. Department of Justice awarded the grant, which is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment act.
"Without grabbing headlines or gaining the notoriety of other dangerous drugs, over 300 Montanans died last year from the abuse of prescription medications," Attorney General Steve Bullock said. "As a state we need to develop a comprehensive approach to deal with this very real problem, an approach that includes prevention, treatment and law enforcement."
The drug diversion unit comes at a time when the Montana Department of Justice's Division of Criminal Investigation has reported that 42 percent of the drug cases handled this year have related to prescription drugs. That number is a dramatic increase from the seven-percent reported in 2003.
Montana now ranks third in the nation for teen abuse of prescription pain relievers, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health and an Attitude Tracking Survey by the Partnership for a Drug Free America. The surveys say that 9.6 percent of teens report abusing prescription drugs over the past year.
According to the surveys, prescription drugs were used for nonmedical purposes by more than four million people for the first time in 2008.
Nearly 60 percent of abusers acquire their prescriptions for free from a friend or a relative. Fourteen-percent of abusers reported buying or stealing the drugs from a friend or relative.
Only 24 percent of parents, the surveys say, have talked about the dangers of prescription drugs with their children.
"This grant is an investment in the future of our state and I look forward to having this team work with local law enforcement and our communities as we tackle prescription drug abuse head on," Bullock said.