United States Vice President Mike Pence will be in Billings on Wednesday to talk about combating illegal drugs, before traveling to Yellowstone National Park.
A White House official confirmed Friday the vice president and Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., will receive a briefing about the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force and the Yellowstone Substance Abuse Coalition. Pence will then address regional law enforcement and community leaders. The meeting is scheduled for Riverstone Health. Wednesday night, the vice president will attend a fundraiser for Daines.
The vice president and his wife Karen Pence will visit Yellowstone National Park on Thursday with Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. Pence will meet with National Park Service and Forest Service employees about rebuilding National Park Service infrastructure.
Daines in a Friday press release thanked Pence for bringing the drug enforcement discussion to Billings.
“Montana has a crisis on its hands. Mexican meth is pouring into our state and tearing our families and communities apart,” Daines said in a press release. “I’ve been fighting hard to tackle this growing issue all over our state and I’m very grateful to welcome Vice President Mike Pence to Billings next week to continue this fight. Together with the Trump Administration and folks all over Montana, we must win this fight for our great state.”
Meth and has been a chronic problem in Montana for decades, specifically for Billings, which was dubbed “Crank Town USA” by Time Magazine in 1999. Rarely do three years go by without Billings law enforcement identifying meth as making a comeback. The drug scourge has been the target of a multi-million dollar billboard ad campaign featuring scabby, rotten-toothed addicts.
Meth production in the past two decades has shifted to Mexico as the U.S. government cracks down on the availability of raw ingredients. At one point, Montana law enforcement shut down more than 100 meth labs a year.
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More recently, Mexican meth has been the focal point of U.S. southern border politics in Montana, where Canada is the northern neighbor and the number of unauthorized Mexican immigrants in Montana is infinitesimal. Importation of meth dominated the border security talking points of Montana’s Republican congressional candidates in 2018.
This is the vice president's third Billings visit in two years.
Daines faces his first re-election bid in 2020. Already, meth and the U.S. Southern border play a significant role in the senator’s politics. Thursday’s event will be Daines’ fifth related to meth. He also toured the Southern border this year and identified the smuggling of meth and other drugs as a key reason for the constructing more wall along portions of the U.S. border with Mexico.
In Congress, Daines authored the “Child Protection and Family Support Act” to allow states to provide foster care maintenance payments for children with parents in a licensed residential family-based treatment facility for substance abuse. Signed into law last year, the act also reauthorizes grants to improve the well-being of families affected by substance abuse.
The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force program has for years been critical to the coordinating regional drug enforcement across Montana. Last month, HIDTAF, was also credited with funding the Yellowstone Substance Abuse Connect Coalition, a group of 55 nonprofits and governmental entities focused on substance abuse.
The group’s efforts were kick-started by a $358,000 grant to increase prevention, treatment and diversion. The grant was secured by the Billings Police Department, as the fiduciary for the Eastern Montana high Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force.
Wednesday’s Pence visit isn’t the first time a top-tier Trump official traveled to Billings to talk about drug enforcement. In April 2018, then U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions cited a 400 percent increase in meth violations in Montana between 2010 and 2015. Speaking at Rimrock Foundation, an in-patient drug treatment center, Sessions said U.S. southern border security was the key to curbing meth trafficking.