Last Thursday, a gathering of law enforcement officials in Missoula laid out the goals and successes of a program called the ‘Project Safe Neighborhoods Initiative’ to fight crime in Missoula County.

Part of that initiative is to support methamphetamine substance abuse prevention and treatment, however, it is helpful first for the general public to understand just what methamphetamine is, how it works and why it is so terribly addictive.

Scott Larson is the Administrator of the Forensic Science Division at the Montana State Crime Lab in Missoula. Larsen said amphetamine has been used for many years as a prescription stimulant in drugs such as Adderall. Methamphetamine is produced when a methyl group of compounds, a carbon and three hydrogens, is added to the amphetamine.

Larson describes the effect that methamphetamine has on the user.

“It elevates peoples mood, increases alertness, but there are unpredictabilities that come with the drug, such as levels of psychosis, paranoia and hallucinations,” said Larson. “A lot of people will dose multiple times, and because it acts as a stimulant, the user doesn’t get much sleep, so they can use it and get on these multiple-day runs, and then you can get the crash on the back side, or what we call the down side if methamphetamine and it can act as sort of a nervous system depressant as opposed to that stimulant activity, and a lot of times that where we get our DUI’s.”

Larson said over the past few years the purity of the drug now produced by organized crime cartels has increased the addictive power of methamphetamine.

“For example, if you go back to 2009, we were getting the average DUI concentration for methamphetamine at roughly about 0.15 mgs per liter, but now, over the last couple of years, it’s well over .35 mgs per liter, so it’s over three times more meth being found in the DUI’s,” he said. “We’re also finding the same thing in postmortem cases, as well.”

According to the website Drug Rehab dot org, Some of the most severe problems associated with abuse of methamphetamine include: Increasing body temperature until you faint; Severe itching, which can lead to scratching to the point of lesions and, later, infections; A condition known as meth mouth, terrible dental and mouth problems including cracked teeth; Changes to thought processes, and changes to behavior and mood.

Larson said his own department, the Montana State Crime Lab has had to confront the issue of methamphetamine use when a member of his staff was accused of stealing drug evidence for his own personal use.

According to the FBI, violent crime in Missoula County is up almost 35 percent from its low in 2010 to 2016. Missoula Police data show that violent crime increased by 49 percent from 2011 through 2017, including murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

From statistics provided by the U.S. Attorney for the State of Montana, Kurt Alme, there have been six federal cases and four state cases that directly involved the use and or sale of methamphetamine that were arrested under the Project Safe Neighborhoods Initiative in Missoula County.

Alme said regarding those arrested for methamphetamine, ‘our goal is help keep the community safe  by supporting those who keep people from using methamphetamine, and to help users become sober’.

At the press conference last week, both Montana Attorney General Tim Fox and Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst emphasized the point to citizens that ‘if you see something, say something’.

In our next report, law enforcement officers will discuss the challenges of investigating and confronting drug crimes in Missoula County.