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Billings Gazette - "Gazette Opinion: Montana Campaigns Curb Meth's Toll"

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Gazette - "Gazette Opinion: Montana Campaigns Curb Meth's Toll"

Montana's anti-meth initiatives are making a difference.

"Methamphetamine in Montana," a second annual report released last week is an effort to "see how we're doing here," Attorney General Mike McGrath said. "We need to hold ourselves accountable." McGrath credited the combination of aggressive law enforcement, public education and effective treatment with reducing meth's toll. The attorney general's report lists indications that the effects of meth are changing and, in some areas, lessening:

• In 2005, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services estimated that 53 percent of all children in out-of-home placements were removed from their homes because of parental meth abuse. In 2007, meth abuse accounted for 26 percent of those foster care placements.

• Meth is turning up less frequently in Montana criminal investigations and less frequently in probationer and parolee testing, according to the State Crime Lab.

• Last year, admissions to state-approved chemical dependency treatment programs increased, but there was a drop in the proportion of patients whose primary drug was meth, especially among people under age 21, according to the Addictive and Mental Disorders Division. This data doesn't include Department of Corrections treatment. Nor does it reflect new meth programs the AMDD launched in January for addicts who need intensive treatment.

• As reported previously, two major public health surveys of Montana youth have indicated that this age group's use of meth has dropped at a faster rate for the past two years while their awareness that meth is risky increased.

• The Montana Meth Project, which has waged a massive, multimedia campaign against teen meth use, has been credited with raising awareness and changing both teen and parental attitudes about the drug.

• In 2002, the peak year for meth labs, law officers busted 122 labs in the state. Only eight labs were found in 2006, seven in 2007. The numbers plummeted after the 2005 Legislature restricted availability of over-the-counter medicines containing ephedrine - a key ingredient in making meth. In-state labs made only a fraction of the meth used in Montana, but they emitted toxic fumes, exploded, burned and contaminated houses, apartment buildings and motels with hazardous waste.

Unfortunately, information from law enforcement agencies indicates that about the same amount of meth is available in Montana. McGrath said more of it is being imported.

Montana youth now are painfully aware of this destructive drug and tell surveyors they wouldn't try it even once. We have curtailed in-state drug production and its poisonous fallout. We have developed more treatment programs. Montanans won't rid ourselves of meth quickly and, perhaps, not completely. Yet each young person who chooses a drug-free life and each addict who stays in recovery is a tremendous victory.

The battle isn't over, but as McGrath said: "We don't have a state that's in denial about meth any longer."

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