Methamphetamine use, abuse and addiction has dominated the news recently with the dramatic increase in crime, arrests and prosecutions.

Administrator of the Forensic Science Division at the Montana State Crime Lab Scott Larson discussed the science involved with the drug, but it’s the law enforcement officers who deal with the drug on a day to day basis.

Missoula County Sheriff’s Office Drug Task Force Commander Jeremiah Peterson said confronting a suspect who may be high on meth presents a difficult challenge.

“Probably the best word I could use to describe them is unpredictable,” said Peterson. “They’re usually very excitable and very amped up with lots of energy. Unfortunately when you deal with someone who has been using the drug for a long time they can have open sores, their teeth can be literally rotting. Someone with a variety of those symptoms would lead us to believe that they’re under the influence of some powerful stimulant.”

Peterson said dealing with the use of meth has been further complicated by other substances that have been added to the drug.

“We’re concerned with the number of agents that are being used to mix it with, or what is called cutting,” he said. “One of the things that has been found is fentanyl which is a powerful pain killer which is supposed to only be available by prescription. 14 grains of fentanyl can actually kill a human being, and we have to take precautions, because we don’t know if that meth we’re coming into contact with has been mixed with fentanyl. Other areas of the country have seen another drug called carfentanil which was originally used as an elephant tranquilizer, and some of that has been mixed with meth. Actually, just one grain of carfentanil will kill a human.”

Peterson said in order to protect law enforcement officers when investigating drug crimes, a new tool has been introduced called Narcan.

“With Narcan, we can reverse the effects if someone comes in contact with those drugs that could potentially be deadly,” he said. “I know that agencies around the country are equipping their responders with Narcan for police officers, sheriff’s deputies, EMT’s and firefighters. Here at the sheriff’s office we are in the process of getting equipped with Narcan, just in case something like that happens.”

Peterson said if a law enforcement officer is not familiar with the drug involved, they take protective precautions to store the drug safely and transport it to the crime lab where it can be tested.

Peterson said there has been a dramatic increase in the amount of crime tied to meth and other illegal drugs such as heroin, and the trend shows no sign of slowing down.

In 2017, Attorney General Tim Fox introduced his AID Montana program, ‘Addressing the Impact of Drugs’ is a comprehensive approach to addressing Montana’s substance abuse crisis.