Chances are high that the local crimes you read about in the newspaper — robbery, assault, theft — have a common root in meth use.
That’s because the drug has evolved and is making a resurgence in Billings, local experts said Monday at a forum on methamphetamine held at the Billings Public Library.
“It’s making a huge, huge comeback,” said Rod Ostermiller, chief deputy for the U.S. Marshals Service.
The event, sponsored by the Montana Meth Project and Billings Gazette Communications, featured criminal justice and drug treatment officials as well as first lady Lisa Bullock and a spokesperson from the Montana Petroleum Association.
Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito called meth the top public safety threat in Billings for the way it fuels other, sometimes violent crime, reiterating comments made last month in a Gazette story on the drug.
Authorities have struggled to keep pace with the uptick in meth dealers, while the rise in use puts pressure on the criminal justice system and local drug treatment providers, panelists said.
What’s new this time around, they said, is that the meth found in Montana is being imported from out of state, from places like California and Mexico, and often trafficked into the Bakken oil region.
“It’s not the ‘trunk’ meth, it’s not the home-cooked stuff,” Twito said. “It’s the pure stuff.”
Adults more than teens are turning to the drug, known for its highly addictive properties, they said.
“We need to expand this ‘Not Even Once’ message,” said Montana Meth Project Executive Director Amy Rue, referring to the group campaign targeted at teens. “We need to extend the message to adults.”
Panelists offered a slew of statistics they said demonstrate the magnitude of meth use in Montana and Yellowstone County:
Twito, who recently began tracking crimes that are indirectly related to meth, said the drug plays a role in about half of all cases that pass through his office.
The amount of the drug seized through drug task force investigations doubled last year, Twito said. Law enforcement seized 116 guns, most of them illegal, during drug busts.
Ostermiller said federal officials can attribute more than half of the $8 million in annual detention costs for inmates in federal prison to meth-related crimes. An alarming number of federal inmates incarcerated due to meth are female, he added, saying that hasn’t been the case until the last few years.
The vast majority of individuals prosecuted by the county for meth possession are put on probation, Twito said. Nearly 2,000 individuals currently are on probation in the county, said district judge Mary Jane Knisely, the event’s moderator.
The influx of meth arrests has strained probation staff and the county’s several drug treatment courts.
But numbers alone don’t tell the whole story. Besides leading to other crimes, meth use breaks apart families, leading to a double-digit bump in Yellowstone County children referred to child protective services last year.
Even worse, it puts children of meth users at risk of using the drug themselves.
“This has a cyclical quality to it,” Ostermiller said. “I find that very disturbing.”
Malcolm Horn, clinical director at Rimrock Foundation, said her staff hears stories from patients who grew up around meth and began using at a young age.
“It’s not all that uncommon for a patient to talk about, their first time with meth was with my mom,” she said.
The panelists urged investment in prevention and treatment programs. Knisely said communities “cannot incarcerate ourselves out of the meth problem.”
Bullock, who serves on the Montana Meth Project board, emphasized the power of talking frankly with teens about meth use.
Oil companies operating in the Bakken oil fields also want to help eradicate the drug, said Montana Petroleum Assiociation spokeswoman Jessica Sena.
“This is a concern to us because our folks are employing people who have families who are living there,” she said.
Drug traffickers tend to target oil workers, who work long hours and often earn high wages, Sena said, adding that oil companies have “extremely stringent” hiring policies.
After the panel, Rue said the Montana Meth Project will remain vigilant in its messaging to Montana teens that meth can destroy their lives, families and communities. The organization screened its new commercial, which notes the drop in teen use in recent years, but says the drug has “evolved.”
“No one is above a relationship with someone who is on the drug or has been affected by it,” Rue said. “We all have a responsibility.”
A look at the effects of Methamphetamine use in Billings
Law enforcement officials and treatment providers are seeing an increase in meth use, a specter that fuels other crimes and brings devastation to the lives of addicts and those who fall victim to their sometimes violent and unpredictable behavior.
Methamphetamine is the No. 1 threat to public safety in Billings, according to Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito.
“I remember (meth) being bad in the late ’90s, but not like this,” he said.
This package of four stories looks at the far-reaching effects of methamphetamine use in Billings; how law enforcement officers, prosecutors and treatment providers are engaging the problem; and what life is like for a recovering addict.
Methamphetamine: ‘The No. 1 threat to public safety': Meth use fuels other kinds of crimes, and meth users can be violent, unpredictable and irrational, posing unique threats to officers and members of the community. According to investigators, methamphetamine appears to be a factor in several recent high-profile criminal cases.
Fighting the business of meth distribution: Meth distribution is a booming business. Law enforcement officials say breaking up dealers’ operations is critical in fighting meth use. Prosecutors and a member of Billings’ drug task force discuss battling meth dealers.
The importance and challenges of treating meth addiction: Treatment providers are seeing an increase in the number of people who need help for methamphetamine addiction — an affliction that is challenging to treat and devastating for families. Many myths persist about meth and the treatment for those addicted to meth.
Beating meth addiction: ‘All it took for me was that first time’: Recovering addict Brittney Boswell, 24, talks about the recovery process and the impact meth has had on her life.