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Chokecherries
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Safely delivered huckleberries to the encouraging news that Montana closed out 2017 with the lowest number of traffic fatalities since 1989. The 186 deaths on Montana roads last year are still far too many and add up to, as Montana Highway Patrol Chief Tom Butler put it, “a tale of tragedy.” But it’s a far better story than the one told in 1972, when nearly 400 people died on Montana highways, and it’s a sign the state is heading in the right direction when it comes to lowering the rate of DUI, increasing the use of seatbelts, and driving down the overall number of traffic deaths each year.

Smoked chokecherries to the unfortunate month-long closure of the Families First Children’s Museum due to concerns about poor air quality. The interactive, educational play place was closed down for most of December and will remain closed until it can ensure that air conditions inside the museum are not harmful to the families who visit, including children ages 0-8. Previous testing showed that air quality was not within healthy levels; the next round of tests will determine the source of the problem. Meanwhile, the Missoula City-County Health Board is suing the Fool’s End Club located in the same building as the museum for alleged Clean Indoor Air Act violations.

Huckleberry oaths of office to the four new city council members who were officially sworn in this past week. Heather Harp of Ward 3, Jesse Ramos of Ward 4, Stacie Anderson of Ward 5 and Julie Merritt of Ward 6 took their oaths of office Tuesday and got to work Wednesday in regular committee meetings. They join their fellow city council members in an unparalleled experience directly representing their neighbors while gaining a deeply intimate understanding of the workings of city government. We wish them well and hope that throughout the course of their four-year term, which ends the first Monday in 2022, they maintain an unwavering commitment to public accountability and transparency.

Chokecherry pills to the high rate of opioid use among injured workers in Montana. Although the rate of opioid prescriptions declined 14 percent between 2013 and 2016, according to health care analytics company IQVIA, Montana’s rate of claims that include a prescription for opioids was higher than the national and regional average in service year 2016. During that period, 61 percent of claims in Montana included an opioid prescription, significantly higher than the regional rate of 46 percent and the national rate of 44 percent, according to the National Council on Compensation Insurance. Even more concerning was the fact that 40 percent of the workers prescribed opioids had received their injury at least six years earlier; the regional rate is only 10 percent and the national rate is 15 percent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that such long-term use greatly increases the risks of forming an addiction, and recommends limiting prescriptions to a week at most in most cases.

Free and unfettered huckleberries to Cynthia Wolken for being named deputy director of the Montana Department of Corrections. The Democratic state senator from Missoula, who intends to resign her legislative seat in February, is well acquainted with the challenges facing the state’s criminal justice system and the role of the Corrections Department in improving that system. Wolken chaired the Commission on Sentencing that recommended a slate of changes to reduce incarceration rates, and saw several of the bills she sponsored related to criminal justice reform become law in the 2017 legislative session. She is also a member of the Criminal Justice Oversight Council. Closer to home, residents of Missoula County also know Wolken from her work on the Missoula City-County Jail Diversion Master Plan. Montanans throughout the state have good reason to expect this record of success to follow Wolken to her new position with the Department of Corrections.

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