GREAT FALLS — Cascade County has launched a new program to help address the drug abuse crisis in the state, and more counties are bound to follow in its footsteps in the coming months.
Wednesday marked the beginning of the Montana Angel Initiative, designed to allow people struggling with addiction to walk into any participating law enforcement office and get connected to treatment options to begin the road to recovery.
The Angel Initiative is new to Montana and is in several other states including Kentucky and Arizona. The goal is to help addicts focus on getting treatment without getting into trouble with the law. If someone wants help and has drugs on them, they can turn them in without being charged or investigated.
Cascade County is the first in the state to have the program but nearly 20 other counties have supported the initiative and plan on adding programs by the new year.
Sheriff Jesse Slaughter was introduced to the idea several months ago and is excited to be the first county in the state to start the program and get more people the help they need.
“Most people suffering with addiction in our community are only getting treatment through the drug treatment court or typically through a court order. Far too often, that type of treatment is not successful, and they continue to abuse drugs,” Slaughter said. “This is about empowering them. Giving them an option, giving them a choice. Going to law enforcement for something good. Going to law enforcement for something exciting, that’s a new start in their life.”
Governor Greg Gianforte said the program is a great step in addressing the drug problem in the state and that he is optimistic about what it can do for Montanans. He said that in 2019, the annual methamphetamine-related death rate in Montana was about 30% higher than the national average.
According to the Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services, more than 90,000 Montanans have some form of substance abuse disorder. They also say that between January and September of this year, there was an average of almost 70 calls related to opioid overdoses.
“There’s still much to do to get Montanans the help they need, whether in the grips of addiction or know someone who is struggling with addiction. Without question this requires urgent action from all of us. While there isn’t one silver bullet to end this epidemic, there are steps we can take to confront it. The Angel Initiative is one of those steps,” Gianforte said.