County Attorney’s Office on Fentanyl Overdose Deaths in Missoula
After a recent City Talk program with Matt Stonesifer, the local HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas) program task force commander, on the topic of methamphetamine and fentanyl overdoses in Missoula, we reached out to the Missoula County Attorney’s Office for its perspective on the epidemic.
Chief Deputy Missoula County Attorney spoke of his office’s efforts to address the issue of methamphetamine.
“There are a few things that we see that we really try and prioritize, and one is the link between methamphetamine and other crimes in our community,” began Jennings. “We really find meth to be a driver of property crimes and violent crimes. It's not only due to people feeding their addiction and trying to steal things for money, but methamphetamine in particular, seems to really alter the way that people think. It can turn somebody that might have grown up a good kid, a good person, and it can make them different. They change and they seem to be more willing and able to commit crimes that they may not have committed before they were on methamphetamine.”
In addition to meth, Jennings had this to say about the proliferation of fentanyl in the Missoula community.
“The second thing that we're really prioritizing right now is fentanyl,” he said. “We're not necessarily seeing the same link between fentanyl and violent crime as in the users committing violent crimes, but what we are seeing, and you and I have discussed on a few occasions, is the extreme risk of overdose because of fentanyl. I think you know that overdose deaths in the country have skyrocketed in the last few years. First, there were opioid deaths but mostly now, its fentanyl."
Jennings provided current data on the meth and fentanyl problem in Missoula.
“It feels like nearly every couple of days or every week we're seeing somebody overdose,” he said. “Just this morning I was reading about an overdose on fentanyl in a casino in town. Just this morning I also charged a case involving a fentanyl overdose death and I charged the person that had distributed those drugs to that person. I have another pending case with a young teenager that died a little over a year ago from a fentanyl overdose.”
Just as Stonesifer directly addressed teens and their parents, Jennings did the same from the perspective of a prosecutor.
“Parents, talk to your kids,” he said simply. “You know, these are things that are in our community, and our young adults and older adults are getting exposed to this stuff. It's popping up at parties and in social settings and online, and if we don't have conversations around the dinner table and even in schools, and other settings about the dangerousness of these drugs, then we will continue to have young people lose their lives over something frivolous and unnecessary and something that's completely preventable. I know that young people sometimes experiment with things. They sometimes take risks, but this isn't a risk that anybody should ever take in our community.”
The Missoula County Attorney’s office determines who will be prosecuted and provides sentencing recommendations.