The Montana Healthcare Foundation and the State Department of Health and Human Services released a report this week about taking practical and cost-effective steps to address the state’s exploding substance abuse crisis.

‘Substance Use Disorder’ is a newly coined term that healthcare and law enforcement agencies must address. CEO of the Montana Healthcare Foundation Aaron Wernham attended a summit at the legislature addressing methamphetamine abuse in Montana.

"We just had a summit that was hosted by the Montana Senate and we heard from both law enforcement and healthcare officials on what a problem meth, heroin and other opiods have become," Wernham said. "Most of the hospitals have listed drug use as one of their top priorities. So, we felt it was important for us to take a hard look at what the state can do to strengthen prevention and treatment."

Wernham detailed several startling statistics about the connection between drug abuse, crime and healthcare.

“The number of children in foster care related to parental SUD in Montana has doubled since 2010,” he said. “Only six percent of state-approved facilities report any programming for pregnant women, or women with children. Drug overdoses account for nearly 250 deaths and 2,500 emergency room and inpatient admissions each year. Only 32 state approved facilities provide inpatient and outpatient SUD treatment, along with a small number of community health centers and tribally-run programs.”

Wernham said Montana law enforcement agencies and the medical community are going to have to work much more closely to address the growing problem of ‘substance use disorder'.

"Law enforcement is trying to tackle what's really best seen as a medical problem," he said. "If there were better access to treatment and early intervention, the police wouldn't have to be chasing people around and arresting them for what is basically a medical problem."

One way Missoula is dealing with the problem is Sheriff T.J. McDermott's Jail Diversion Program, that would divert defendants with drug and emotional problems into treatment instead of jail.

"We're in communication with the hospitals and the social workers trying to come up with a 24-hour mental health crisis facility for people with a law enforcement drop-off," McDermott said. "That's the most exciting thing to me is that people absent a substance abuse or addiction would not find themselves in the criminal justice system."

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