Guest column: The battle against Montana’s drug epidemic

November 11, 2018 - Missoulian

Guest column by U.S. Sen. Steve Daines

Montana is a place where we pride ourselves on having strong, tight-knit communities. However, our communities in every corner of the state are facing a very real crisis: an opioid and meth epidemic.

We are seeing constant stories on the impacts of meth and drug use making headlines in Montana. This past summer, a man was charged with abandoning a baby in the woods near Lolo Hot Springs. He admitted he was high on meth and bath salts. While this story is truly horrific, it is just one of the many tragic stories of meth in Montana.

For years, the opioids epidemic has been steadily growing and engulfing communities across Montana and the nation. In Montana, opioid overdoses have claimed the lives of 700 people since 2000. From 2013 to 2014, 42 percent of all drug-related deaths were caused by opioids. With easier access and a larger supply on the street, drugs are making their way into the hands of Montanans. This reality is tearing families apart, and devastating our communities.

In addition to opioids, a far deadlier epidemic is wreaking havoc in Montana — the meth epidemic. In Montana, meth is destroying families and communities, and disproportionately impacting Native American tribes. There has been a 415 percent increase in meth cases from 2011 to 2017 and a 375 percent increase in meth related deaths in that same period. In 2013, law enforcement seized 40 pounds of meth. In 2017, that number more than quadrupled to 188 pounds. A majority of this meth reaching Montana is smuggled across our southern border with Mexico.

What we are seeing is a direct link between violent crime and meth use. Montana has seen a 35 percent increase in violent crime since 2010. An increase in murder, robbery, aggravated assault and rape have been connected to higher meth use in Montana. Nearly every Montanan has been impacted in some way by the drug crisis and increase in violent crime.

Congress needed to act. After working in a bipartisan fashion, we delivered landmark legislation combating this epidemic. This legislation, known as the Opioids Bill, was signed into law by President Trump just last month. At the federal level, the goal must be to partner with states and communities to overcome this growing epidemic. For this reason, I fought in Congress to include specific provisions in the bill.

I was able to include my bipartisan bill, the Mitigating METH Act, which expands the state targeted response to the opioid crisis grants to include Indian tribes as eligible recipients. My other bipartisan bill, the STOP Act, was also included and signed into law. This bill will help stop illegal drugs from crossing the border that are being shipped through the postal service. I’m also pleased that programs like the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas, drug courts and the COPS Anti-Meth program were all reauthorized in this package. In fact, just days after the President signed the law, Montana received its first COPS Anti-Meth grant, which will be used to stop the flow of Mexican meth into our communities.

In what has become a rather politically divisive time, I’m pleased that we were able to work together to push this important legislation across the finish line, and I’m thankful President Trump signed it into law. I am also grateful for all the work Montanans are doing. Attorney General Tim Fox, U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme, U.S. Marshall Rod Ostermiller and our law enforcement agencies have been on the ground in Montana diligently working to combat this crisis.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with local, state and federal law enforcement as well as members from drug courts and others on the front line of this issue. Together, I believe we can chart a path forward to heal and protect our communities from violence, addiction and the devastation meth is causing.

We’ve taken an important first big step to curbing the drug epidemic hurting our families and communities. This is a battle we must win.

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