Governor Greg Gianforte met with local law enforcement, officials and mental health and addiction treatment providers in Kalispell on Thursday, where they brainstormed ways to address the fentanyl crisis and chiefs state health departments introduced a shelter program called the Montana Angel Initiative.
The initiative, which is currently being used in Yellowstone, Cascade and Lewis and Clark counties, would allow people with addictions to access law enforcement offices where authorities can connect people to treatment.
“The Angel Initiative is a partnership between the Department of Public Health as well as statewide providers and law enforcement to help increase access to treatment for those who need it. “said Ki-Ai McBride, of the Department of Health and Human Services (DPHHS). ) Opioid Prevention Program Manager. “They can ask for help by going to law enforcement if they are in possession of drugs and paraphernalia and they have the option to turn them over, get help and be connected with a supplier.”
To combat fentanyl overdoses, the state has ramped up its Narcan program, distributing 50% more anti-overdose drugs each year since 2018, which local law enforcement and emergency responders use multiple times a year. week.
“Montana law enforcement has confiscated more fentanyl in the first six months of this year than in the previous three years combined…We need to come up with a plan to deal with it,” Gianforte said during of the round table.
Flathead County Sheriff Brian Heino said his office has seen a significant increase in fentanyl and drug-related crimes, which he attributes in part to Flathead’s growing population. He also said that fentanyl primarily enters the region through the postal system and that he would like to see a solution at the federal level.
“Our mail system basically brings in drugs and narcotics and it delivers,” Heino said.
Flathead County District Attorney Travis Ahner confirmed that approximately 70 percent of the district attorney’s office cases involve drug-related crimes, many of which include property crimes and drug possession. He attributed the increase in crime in part to the pandemic, but he also pointed to changes in the 2017 legislature that reduced penalties for misdemeanors, which he said led to the rise in crime. which could otherwise have been avoided.
“There is a lack of accountability at these early stages,” Ahner said. “I think some accountability, wake-up calls, at that level of offense would help, including some of those diversion programs.”
Local mental health and addiction treatment professionals have also criticized the state’s response to numerous challenges, and Alpenglow Clinic clinical director Chad Kingery told the governor that patient treatment programs hospitalized were difficult to manage without funding, which is desperately needed to deal with the crisis.
“The tracking program is what’s broken in this state,” Kingery said.
Kingery suggested reassessing the distribution of liquor taxes to a wider range of treatment providers instead of providing funding to just one facility per county. He also highlighted the impact of challenges in the current housing market on the ability to provide hospital treatment that would require a large facility.
“I can tell you that there is no amount of clinics that I can open and there is no amount of employees who are perfect for what they do, it will generate enough of income so that we can pay the mortgage on a $2 million property.” Kingery said. “I think that kind of data extrapolates the challenges of these incredible ideas that we have — and there’s no no way to access it.”
Kalispell Mayor Mark Johnson was also frustrated with the city’s budget, which limits his ability to provide additional law enforcement services and resources within the municipality. State grants that would fund additional officers for two to three years would help in the short term, he said.
“We’re terribly behind in Montana when it comes to ways to raise taxes for law enforcement,” Johnson said. “With budgetary constraints, we cannot allocate so much.”
Gianforte told local leaders that his office would evaluate new programs and that he hoped to bring the Montana Angel Initiative to Flathead County.