Montana launches Angel Initiative, CCSO first participating agency

The Cascade County Sheriff’s Office is partnering with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services and an addiction treatment provider to launch the Montana Angel Initiative, in which those struggling with addiction can go to a participating law enforcement office and be connected with a treatment provider.

The initiative is modeled after one already in place in Kentucky, where the DPHHS director previously worked, and is also in use in other states, including Arizona, West Virginia, Colorado, Massachusetts and Michigan.

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Under the program, a person with addiction who is seeking help can go to a participating law enforcement office and ask for help. DPHHS will be training participating offices so those employees can help connect the person with treatment programs and providers through a hotline that will be manned 24/7.

CCSO will be the first participating office in Montana.

Nearly 20 Montana sheriff’s offices have committed to join the initiative, according to DPHHS.

Sheriff Jesse Slaughter said that treatment is often more successful when a person seeks it out verus through court mandated programs.

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Gov. Greg Gianforte spoke at the launch of the initiative at CCSO on Nov. 9 and said that battling addiction “takes an all hands on deck” approach. “Addressing it has only become more urgent.”

He said that according to DPHHS data, more than 90,000 Montanans have some sort of substance abuse disorder, but only a fraction seek treatment.

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Over the summer, DPHHS said there has been an increase in opioid overdose calls in general statewide, according to DPHHS. In 2020, the state averaged 45 opioid calls per month. By the middle of 2021, the state has averaged 54 opioid overdose calls per month, including an increase in March with 68 calls, the highest number of calls in one month over the last three years. In 2018, the state averaged 18 calls per month and it was 24 in 2019, according to DPHHS.

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“Without question, this crisis requires urgent action from all of us,” Gianforte said.

He said that the state established a $25 million grant program, called the Heart Fund, that will fund abuse prevention and treatment programs in local communities through nonprofits and nongovernmental agencies.

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DPHHS Director Adam Meier said that his department will provide training and the agency website will have a map with participating locations and they’re setting up a hotline that law enforcement staff can call to connect a person with treatment providers and programs.

“There’s a tremendous need here,” Meier said.