By Amy Beth Hanson Associated Press
HELENA (AP) – Substance abuse affects the health and quality of life of many Montanans, leading to medical, legal, financial and family problems that cost the state millions of dollars and many lives due to overdoses, fatal crashes and suicides, Attorney General Tim Fox said Tuesday in releasing a report on substance abuse in the state.
The report outlines the effects of drug and alcohol abuse on people’s lives and how individual government agencies are addressing the issue—from prevention efforts to treatment to prison.
As part of his Addressing the Impact of Drugs initiative, Fox wants agencies, lawmakers and others to help determine which efforts are most successful and develop a more efficient statewide plan.
Numerous agencies have addressed parts of the problem in their own areas of jurisdiction—including DUI and drug task forces, treatment courts, addiction treatment centers and prescription drug drop-offs.
“But very few of us are talking together and understanding what the other person is doing,” Fox said. “I think that conversation will help us get to a point ultimately where we can put a plan together for our legislators and our governor to consider in the 2019 Legislature.”
Despite the current efforts, Montana has among the highest traffic fatality rates per capita and alcohol was involved in 83 of the 224 fatal crashes in 2015. Drugs were involved in 75 deaths, the report said.
Montana’s suicide rate is twice the national average and nearly half of those who died by suicide, whose substance use was assessed, had alcohol in their system. Montana’s Suicide Mortality Review team found 21 percent had narcotic pain killers in their system while 17 percent had recently used marijuana. Montana’s jails and prisons are crowded, the state’s courts are overwhelmed and the state crime lab has seen a marked increase in drug tests.
More than 100 Montana residents die each year due to drug overdoses, costing the state an estimated $1.4 million, the report said. The 20,000 annual hospital and emergency room visits with a primary or secondary diagnosis of substance abuse cost more than $150 million, the report said.
Montana’s foster care program has a record number of children out of their homes and 65 percent of the cases involve parental substance abuse, the Division of Child and Family Services reports.
The plan the Department of Justice wants developed over the next 15 months will likely include recommendations to the 2019 Legislature as well as possible policy changes within state agencies. The work will include asking other states and communities what efforts they’ve found to be successful.
“It’s easy to look at this and say this is just too much to bite off, too much to chew,” Fox said, adding that he believes the state can find a solution.
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