Editorial: Montana making much-needed headway on meth response

June 07, 2017 - Missoulian

Montana methamphetamine users are no longer cooking the drug themselves using cold medicine and other common household goods. Instead, many are buying it from dealers who traffic in cheaper, larger quantities of meth made in massive production facilities in Mexico.

Montana’s rural and urban communities alike are seeing more emergency room visits and drug busts, overburdened police and courts, and overcrowded jail cells. More children are in foster care because their parents are meth users. The state currently lacks an effective means to clean up meth-contaminated homes.

Meanwhile, those on the front lines are teaming up to find more effective ways to respond to the meth epidemic. Law enforcement agencies are catching drug dealers on the Montana’s highways. More courts are requiring that addicts try treatment, and addiction experts are working to expand treatment options.

Montanans have a detailed, comprehensive understanding of all this thanks to an unfolding series of news stories closely examining meth in Montana. The series, collectively called the Meth Effect, is part of a multimedia reporting project undertaken by a team of students in the University of Montana School of Journalism working to share the many stories of meth in a number of ways, from written words and photos to audio interviews and online social media.

This series is being featured in the Missoulian as well as via the project’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. A website, www.metheffect.com, contains the team’s entire collection of published work. Taken together, the project not only paints a tragic picture of the meth problem in Montana, it points to places where Montanans are trying out different solutions – and where some wider public attention and support might be helpful.

The proposals are as varied as the problem itself, and can be found in the realms of addiction and treatment, family trauma and separation, law enforcement and child protection services, and they are all related. After all, a treatment program that works to keep a meth user employed, housed, out of jail and home with her children will also help free up court resources, jail space and social workers.

Here are just a few specific takeaways:

  • Stopping meth the moment it enters Montana is a growing priority. In 2016, Montana Highway Patrol troopers confiscated nearly 1,300 pounds of drugs; not just meth, but also marijuana, heroin and other drugs. Compare that to the 450 pounds confiscated in 2012. That year, troopers made fewer than 60 felony drug arrests; last year, they made more than 250.
  • More families, schools and communities need to become part of the network of resources to help them prevent meth use, watch for the warning signs, and know where to turn for help. The nonprofit Montana Meth Project has served as the state’s primary prevention initiative and information clearinghouse since 2006, with attention-grabbing ad campaigns, community outreach and links to helpful resources at montanameth.org. (Note: Missoulian Publisher and editorial board member Mike Gulledge serves as chair of Montana Meth Project’s board of directors.)
  • In April, the Montana Department of Justice launched a new initiative called “Aid Montana: Addressing the Impact of Drugs,” which aims to bring together law enforcement, treatment, education and coordination efforts into a comprehensive, community-wide approach to addressing the larger issue of substance abuse, not just meth. Over the summer, the department will be hosting listening sessions throughout the state and gathering ideas for combating substance abuse, with the goal of completing a strategic plan before the start of the 2019 legislative session.

There’s a lot more that can and must be done, of course, but it’s encouraging to see dedicated efforts to address the myriad problems associated with meth gaining a foothold in Montana. Understanding the meth epidemic is the first important step in fighting it.

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