By MATTHEW BROWN Associated Press
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Vice President Mike Pence pushed a combination of tough law enforcement and treatment for addicts to combat Montana's methamphetamine crisis, during a Wednesday visit to the state that was also aimed at raising campaign cash for fellow Republican Sen. Steve Daines.
The vice president heard harrowing stories of violence and child abuse linked to meth as he spoke with treatment providers, law enforcement, tribal officials and recovering addicts in Billings.
They stressed that meth has emerged as a far bigger problem in Montana than the opioids prevalent elsewhere in the nation and noted that meth is now the driving force behind many robberies, other violent crimes and most child neglect cases.
Authorities in Montana have struggled to contain meth-related crimes. They recently announced they've at least slowed the sharp increases in violence seen over the past few years in Billings, the state's largest city.
Pence said crackdowns on meth traffickers must be paired with programs that help people break the cycle of addiction. He pledged the administration's support in confronting the issue.
"We're gonna' keep the help coming," the vice president said. "We can turn this around in Montana, and we will for the sake of our families and our nation."
Daines linked the issue to border protection and credited the administration with attacking the meth problem on all fronts.
"The homegrown meth at 25 percent purity we used to see in Montana has been replaced by Mexican cartel meth with purities north of 95 percent. It is far more potent, far more addicting," Daines said. "We can't keep up with the volume of meth that is out there on the streets of Montana."
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, did not attend Wednesday's events but issued a statement criticizing the administration over what Tester said were proposed cuts to drug trafficking enforcement spending.
"Montanans expect more than lip service," Tester said.
Pence later attended a private fundraiser for Daines at the offices of Lonewolf Energy in Billings.
The oil company's founder, Talbert "Trent" Sizemore, has long been a financial supporter of Daines, who is up for re-election next year. Sizemore and his wife, Konnie, donated a combined $12,700 to Daines in the run-up to the Republican's election to the House in 2012 and the Senate in 2014, according to campaign filings.
By headlining the fundraiser, Pence was recognizing Daines as a loyalist to the administration of President Donald Trump, Montana State University political analyst David Parker said.
On Thursday, Pence was scheduled to visit Yellowstone National Park with Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.
The trip is aimed at building support for the administration's proposal to rebuild national park system infrastructure using money generated through government oil and gas lease sales.
Associated Press writer Matt Volz contributed from Helena, Montana.

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