LIVINGSTON - Park County officials are noticing alarming trends as they give insight into the grip that methamphetamine and fentanyl have on their community.
“It’s increasing year, after year, after year, we’re seeing addiction rates that are higher than ever, caseloads that are higher than ever,” Park County Sheriff Brad Bichler said.
Bichler notes the long-term battle that Park County and the state of Montana have had with drugs, especially methamphetamine. Noting other crimes, such as violent and property crimes likely have a drug component to them— and that drug, nearly 100 percent of the time, is meth.
The Montana Department of Justice reported that in 2021 Montana State Highway Troopers seized 49.1lbs of meth on the state's highways, and in the first 10 weeks of 2022—they seized 33.3lbs. During the first quarter of the year, and they have seized about 2/3 of the total amount of last year's meth.
While Bichler and his officers handle these cases ‘on the ground’, Park County Attorney Kendra Lassiter and other lawyers handle the cases in the courtroom. Every Monday, Lassiter sees case after case involving felony possession of drugs, and others revolving around drug crime.
“I think the vast majority of my cases are—I don’t know the exact percentage—but I’d say it was 90 percent or above,” Lassiter said.
In terms of fentanyl in the county, like the rest of the state, Park County is seeing the trend on the rise. Attorney General Austin Knudsen says that fentanyl is becoming the drug of choice in Montana, due to the cartels bringing the drug through our highway system.
“I fear, and other colleagues of mine fear, that (fentanyl) will, at some point surpass the methamphetamine problem that we have,” Sheriff Brad Bichler said.
“This is not just a Billings problem, this is not just a reservation problem, we are seeing this everywhere,” Knudsen said.
Fentanyl is being laced with several different narcotics, one of which is methamphetamine.
“It’s terrifying, we had a case where an MRDTF (Missouri River Drug Task Force) officer had to administer Narcan to someone, several times in one week and basically bring them back from the dead,” Lassiter said.
Combating the drug problem in Park County, the state of Montana, and the nation as a whole requires funding, resources, and education.
Lassiter recommends reaching out to your local law enforcement or drug task force for further education, and Knudsen’s message to Montanans is to have a conversation about drugs and fentanyl with your family members and loved ones.