To address a methamphetamine problem in Montana he called “staggering,” Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., hosted a roundtable on Montana’s meth crisis with U.S. Attorney General William Barr, Montana Attorney General Tim Fox and other local law-enforcement figures on Friday afternoon at the Flathead County Sheriff’s Posse.
Daines wanted Barr to visit Montana to “hear firsthand from the front lines of what’s happening in Montana,” he said.
Daines said meth-related crimes were up 690% from 2011-2017. He said the days of meth being made locally with “Sudafed and Draino” are over, as Mexican cartels are now distributing “95% pure” meth in Montana. He added that “Montana is a northern border state with a southern border crisis.”
Barr followed Daines by expressing his alarm over the crisis, saying he understands that “just as well as we have an opioid crisis, we have a methamphetamine crisis.”
“The thing that scares me about this … is that it’s associated with violence. And the more meth, the more violence we’re going to have in this country,” Barr said.
He pointed out that other states are seeing fentanyl mixed with meth, and said “it’s only a matter of time before it hits Montana just as hard as other places. And that’s going to mean a lot more overdose deaths before we get this methamphetamine under control.”
Barr said the battle cannot be fought just at the local level, especially as the majority of meth in Montana comes from Mexico.
“We have to get the Mexican government to fight its war against cartels,” he said, “before they’ve lost control of their country.”
In the United States, he said the federal government needs to work “hand in glove” with law enforcement at state and local levels, but acknowledged resources are “scarce for everybody.”
“We have great cooperative relationships … I’m here to see what we can do more,” Barr said.
Flathead County Sheriff Brian Heino said “the world that we once worked in is changing.”
He added that from his own perspective, “it seems more and more like the sentencing of individuals that have been tried and convicted are less and less.
“I understand the balance of the justice system has to be there,” Heino said, “but sometimes it feels like that pendulum may have swung a little bit too far back at times.”
Craig Lambrecht, chief executive officer of Kalispell Regional Healthcare, said the hospital sees lots of babies “born with withdrawal.”
He said the hospital has “about twice the Montana rate” of babies born with withdrawal, or neonatal abstinence. He explained those babies stay an extra 35 to 40 days in the neonatal intensive-care units while their care costs “hundreds of thousands” of dollars.
“And after that, you’ve got to figure out the transition. Is it foster care, what does parenting look like … we need families for these kids,” Lambrecht said.
Barr said that while law enforcement is not the final solution, “there is no solution without law enforcement.”
He said shifting too much money to treatment and education is “a mistake.”
Fox reiterated the need to address the situation holistically. He said “early intervention in our drug specialty courts” has been relatively successful, and he advocated for more treatment, prevention and education.
However, Fox said these solutions are also “reactionary” and do not address the source of the problem.
“We know now that we are not in the ‘Breaking Bad’ era of methamphetamine being cooked in trailers and houses and that kind of thing. It’s Mexican methamphetamine,” he said. “Until we get a handle on the source, we’re going to be fighting a losing cause.”