A new substance abuse prevention coalition has been awarded $248,000 to get its members, more than 40 in total, on the same page and into gear, the U.S. District Attorney for Montana said last week.
The grant comes at a time when violent crime in Missoula is up 40% since the beginning of the pandemic earlier this year, according to the U.S. District Attorney's Office. Law enforcement agencies have almost universally attributed methamphetamine use as the fuel to violent crime.
Missoula Substance Abuse Connect will be made up of more than 40 businesses, nonprofits and government agencies working to reduce demand for methamphetamine by developing drug prevention, treatment and recovery support plan for Missoula, according to a press release. The funding comes from the Office of National Drug Control Policy and was directed through the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force, then through the Missoula Police Department and ultimately landed at United Way of Missoula County, which is leading the Missoula Substance Abuse Connect effort.
This funding focuses on gathering substance abuse treatment resources and will complement law enforcement's work, said United Way Chief Executive Officer Susan Hay Patrick.
"I know law enforcement knows we're not going to arrest our way out of the substance abuse crisis in our community," she told the Missoulian on Friday. "We have to, in essence, turn off the faucet."
That means stemming the demand for meth through prevention and treatment resources. The coalition will first look to gather information from every angle it can acquire through its new network, so that the landscape becomes clear and gaps in resources can be addressed.
"There's a lot of data out there that hasn't necessarily been synthesized in one place to determine where are our gaps in treatment," Hay Patrick said.
The project director is Shannan Sproull. Janna Lundquist has been named project chair. United Way of Missoula County and a volunteer board of business and community leaders will manage the coalition.
Project Safe Neighborhoods, a U.S. Department of Justice initiative deployed locally, was another example of a collaborative effort with impact, pushing down murders, robberies and aggravated assaults by 25% between April 2018 and April 2020. Since then, that numbers has taken a sharp upward turn with a 40% increase in the last seven months.
Missoula Substance Abuse Connect coalition will mark the first time many of these groups have been at the same table, Hay Patrick said. These will include mental health professionals, businesses, hospitals, people in recovery, schools, the University of Montana and more.
"It's a big umbrella," Hay Patrick said.
“This is an incredible opportunity for our community to collaborate on one of the most pressing challenges of our time — methamphetamine. Working together, we can prevent youngsters from ever using meth, provide local treatment for those struggling with addiction and prosecute and bring to justice drug dealers who come here to push meth,” said Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst in the press release.
“The Missoula Police Department is proud to be a part of Missoula Substance Abuse Connect. We look forward to the prevention and treatment opportunities this program will provide our community. Missoula Substance Abuse Connect, coupled with our enforcement efforts with our law enforcement partners, will help us reduce drug-related crimes in Missoula,” Missoula Police Chief Jaeson White said.
“We are pleased the community received this grant, which funds an important part of PSN’s goal to reduce violent crime. Strong enforcement by our federal, state and local enforcement partners is critical to shutting down meth trafficking organizations that push this highly addictive drug, but it is not enough. We also need prevention and treatment services to help reduce demand. We are pleased to be part of Missoula Substance Abuse Connect.” U.S. Attorney Alme said.
“The Missoula County Sheriff’s Office looks forward to this partnership with the United Way to provide assistance through Missoula Substance Abuse Connect to those in our community who are dealing with addictions and substance abuse issues. I’d also like to thank United Way of Missoula CEO Susan Hay Patrick for her efforts on this project,” Missoula County Sheriff TJ McDermott said.
The funding lasts through September 2021 — less than a year — but Hay Patrick said Missoula does well in collaborative efforts, and that the goal since the group's inception was to keep finding new funding sources.
"We have baked sustainability into the project and are committed to raising other funds for it," she said.
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