BOZEMAN - As the opioid crisis and drug epidemic deepen nationwide, we're feeling the effects right here in Montana.
So far this year, law enforcement in southwest Montana have seized nearly 35,000 grams of drugs, ranging from marijuana to meth to prescription drugs. They're already on track to surpass last year's seizures of close to 45,000 grams.
The rise in drug seizures are concerning for more reasons than one. Law enforcement say they're seeing the price of drugs go down, the amount of drugs per buy going up, and perhaps most dangerously: the potency of the drugs increasing.
One example of this potency level rising can be seen in marijuana crops. In the 1960s and 1970s, the levels of THC (the main active ingredient in cannabis) in the drug were at 3%. By the 90s, THC levels had risen to 7%. But now, the average cannabis product has levels of 30-40% THC in it, with law enforcement seeing some units with levels as high as 90 or 95%. With such a high concentration of active ingredients, the drugs are far more powerful.
The Missouri River Drug Task Force, which serves 20% of the Treasure State's population across six counties, is tasked with addressing southwest Montana's deep-seated drug issues. They say nearly every case that Gallatin County's law enforcement has dealt with in the last year-and-a-half also has a connection - or is fueled by - drugs.
"People don't realize how it affects everyone in your community," says Task Force Commander Ryan Stratman. "A lot of these crimes, we estimate in the 90th percentile of the crimes committed, revolve around drugs and alcohol."
With such a far-reaching issue, it can feel overwhelming to even consider addressing the crisis personally. One thing that you can do, though, to keep drugs out of the wrong hands is giving your unused opioids (prescription drugs) to the right authorities. Most Montana cities and counties have semi-annual drug take-back days, as well as drug take-back boxes that are available year-round in most law enforcement buildings. You can get rid of unused medications (pills only) there, no questions asked.
Despite the rising number of drugs in the state's communities, task force members remind the public that Montana remains a wonderful place to live; but drug use is an epidemic that won't go away on its own.