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Remarks of Attorney General Mike McGrath at the Wheeler Conference: "Meth: What's Working? What's Next?"

Location: Unknown

"Today's Efforts, Tomorrow's Results: the Montana Story"

Today, Montana ranks in the top quarter of all states for methamphetamine abuse. We rank eleventh out of the 50 states. I believe we can do more to reduce meth addiction in our state. And that is the impetus behind this conference. Thank you all for being here and for your interest in helping shape the future direction of our efforts.

We've had success in several areas. To date this fiscal year, there have been 11 clandestine lab busts in Montana. That is a vast improvement over the numbers we've seen in recent years. Four years ago, the number of meth labs that required the removal of hazardous materials by a specialized contractor peaked at 122.

Vigilant law enforcement and effective laws do make a difference.

Last year, when the Montana Department of Justice went to the Montana legislature with a number of proposals to curb meth production, we were very successful. In fact, Senator Trudi Schmidt's bill to put cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine behind the pharmacy counter, had the support of all 50 senators. That's important, because you can't make meth without pseudo. This bill is why we've had only 11 clan labs. Moreover, most of those were old abandoned sites that had been active before the effective date of our act.

Unfortunately, pseudoephedrine is still readily available in Mexico and superlabs are now producing an estimated 80 percent of the meth found in the United States.

Clearly, we cannot relax our law enforcement efforts. Division of Criminal Investigation narcotics agents were recently involved in two lab busts - one in Conrad and another in Absarokee. They were notable for the unusually large number of chemicals found in each. Whereas a typical lab bust used to generate about 20 samples, in the Conrad case, they sent 88 samples to the Crime Lab for analysis.

Law enforcement resources are tight. For the past several years Montana has funded seven multi-jurisdictional drug task forces and one statewide drug task force with federal dollars. But last year, the Administration cut those funds in half.

Thankfully, Montana legislators realized that continued funding for our state's multi-agency drug task forces is essential to continuing the battle against meth. Because the Montana legislature gave us back some of the federal money we lost, our drug task forces have continued to operate. Now this year, federal cuts are an additional 38%. The Board of Crime Control is asking local communities that get these grants to make up the difference.

But, the fact is, law enforcement cannot do it alone.

In addition to all the chemicals they found being cooked in the Conrad home, they also found two young children aged 8 and 9. Those children are now in the custody of the Department of Public Health and Human Services.

Kevin Frank, DPHHS Regional Administrator in Billings, recently testified at a congressional hearing that meth is a factor in 58% of the foster care cases in Montana. Moreover, the number of cases is growing.

Children exposed to meth face significant problems:

* They have multiple special needs and multiple behavior problems.
* Many suffer from the effects of prenatal exposure to meth. Some children are born addicted to meth and suffer withdrawal; others have ADD, ADHD and academic and language delays.
* Many have been exposed to violence, and some suffer the loss of their caretakers in meth-related abuse and even homicide.

These children need experienced foster parents.

* Most will have longer periods in foster care because meth addicts are likely to relapse.
* And children who have not known structure and consistency pose special challenges to the relatives and foster parents caring for them.

Not surprisingly, while meth isn't the only illegal drug in Montana, dealing with it consumes a vastly disproportionate amount of our law enforcement, child protection, treatment and corrections resources.

When I first became Attorney General in 2001 and began talking about meth statewide, many communities were in denial. Most believed they couldn't possibly have a meth problem in their town.

Some communities like Glendive and Miles City had to find out the hard way.

* In late 2000, Miles City struggled to deal with the death of a successful high school senior - Cassie Haydal - who died from a heart attack triggered by methamphetamine.
* About that same time, a missing-person case out of Glendive became a meth-related homicide case. 17-year-old Steve Berry's badly burned body was discovered in a remote ravine in rural Dawson County. He had been tortured, shot six times and his body burned twice. Lance Deines - the main defendant - was a young drug dealer who sold meth, marijuana, cocaine and other drugs.

I remember going to a town meeting shortly thereafter. People were alarmed that something like that could have happened in their community. But by the time each of the seven young defendants had pled guilty over the course of the next two years, Glendive knew beyond any doubt that it had a meth problem.

Now, five years and myriad public awareness efforts later, we don't have those kind of denial problems.

At the Department of Justice:

* We have developed a website, MethFreeMT, that provides a wide range of information about meth and links to related resources.

* My office worked with Linda McCulloch and the Office of Public Instruction on a "Tools for Schools" project - a series of 10 PowerPoint presentations tailored for students in grades 6-8 and 9-12. Those materials are in the schools now and are being used across the state.

* We also worked with the MSU Extension Service to develop a Community toolkit designed to help community groups educate the public about meth.
* And of course, the Montana Meth Project ads are having a huge impact.

Based on a survey recently released by the MT Meth Project, we know that:

* Teens and parents are talking about meth. 85% of teens and 97% of parents report having a discussion about meth in the last 6 months.
* And the perception of the risks associated with meth is more realistic. Across all age groups, the understanding that meth carries "great risk" has gone up significantly.

Those are remarkable and important gains.

Shortly, you will hear from Carren Clem, a former meth addict, and her dad Ron. She is proof positive that treatment does indeed work.

But her father will tell you just how hard it is to find and afford the treatment resources we need to help turn lives around.

That is the major challenge for this conference to figure out.

Treatment is something we can't afford to ignore from the human or economic perspective. As the alternative, imprisonment is more expensive and, in the long term, far less effective.

It costs approximately $25,000 a year to keep someone in prison for a year. According to the Department of Corrections:

* around 80 to 85 percent of all offenders in the system have a drug or chemical-dependency problem, and that includes alcohol.
* about 53 percent of female inmates identify meth as one of their drugs of choice.
* about 36 percent of male inmates identify meth as one of their drugs of choice.

Imprisonment because of drug possession or related crimes is an expensive way to go. And ultimately, it is not particularly effective. A recent study in California noted that the effectiveness of using incarceration as a deterrent to drug use is questionable. In fact, being in jail tends to adversely "affect people's ability to get a job, to stay healthy, and can expose people to higher risks of communicable diseases."

California's Proposition 36 provides a dramatic example of how cost effective drug treatment is. Following passage of that drug treatment legislation five years ago, California experienced a greater decrease in the number of individuals incarcerated for drug possession and drug charges than any other state in the nation. Specifically, between 2000 and 2005, the rate of incarceration for drug possession dropped by 34%.

A related UCLA study had already shown that Proposition 36 saved California $173 million in its first year, and $2.50 for every dollar invested.

Montana desperately needs more long-term treatment programs designed specifically for meth addicts. And we also need to focus more attention on their children, who often suffer from severe neglect.

For the past two years, my office has partnered with the Department of Public Health and Human Services on the Bridge Program. We have helped fund three residential recovery homes for drug-addicted women and their children, in Billings, Great Falls and Missoula. Bridge funds are used to cover everything from dental work, to psychological evaluations to school supplies.

It's telling that there are women in treatment through the Bridge Program who are third- generation drug addicts. Long-term residential treatment options like this are our best hope of breaking the cycle of addiction, neglect and abuse, and family violence.

So, that brings us to today and this conference. We have made very significant progress, but the purpose of the next two days is not rehash where we have been. It is to decide on a strategy for what needs to be done next. We won't be handing out our plan as part of the next panel - over the next two days, you will be helping craft the plan.

You are here because you are Montana's decision makers. You represent our rural towns, our larger cities, our schools, our tribes, our government, our courts. We recognize that what might work in Billings might not work in Browning. So speak up:

* Tell us what you need.
* Tell us what works.
* Tell us what new laws can help and where more funding is needed.

There are good things happening in some communities and schools around the state. This afternoon we are going to hear about some of them from school, program and tribal representatives. And tomorrow morning, we will get into the meat of where we need to go from here with discussions of treatment courts and treatment programs.

Again, my thanks to you all for attending this conference. Over the next two days, I believe we have the opportunity to set a course that will make a substantial difference - both in people's lives and to Montana's future.

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