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Crime & Courts

Lewis and Clark County joins Gianforte’s substance abuse treatment initiative

 Gov. Greg Gianforte talks about the Angel Initiative at the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s office in Helena, MT, Feb. 1, 2022. Todd Wilson of the Helena Indian Alliance (left) and Director Adam Meier of the Montana DPHHS look on.
Shaylee Ragar
/
Montana Public Radio
Gov. Greg Gianforte talks about the Angel Initiative at the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s office in Helena, MT, Feb. 1, 2022. Todd Wilson of the Helena Indian Alliance (left) and Director Adam Meier of the Montana DPHHS look on.

The Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office will be taking part in a new initiative launched by the Gianforte administration that aims to get more Montanans in treatment for substance abuse.

The Angel Initiative requires law enforcement to change how they do business: If a person self-reports their substance abuse and turns over their drugs, police won’t press charges. Instead, they’ll help the person find treatment.

“This is a paradigm shift,” Lewis and Clark Sheriff Leo Dutton said during a news conference on Tuesday.

The initiative first launched in Cascade County last November. State health director Adam Meier says nearly 20 sheriff’s departments and 10 providers around the state have signed up since then to take part.

The voluntary program is not available to people with an outstanding warrant, a threat to the provider, registered sex offenders or unaccompanied minors.

Meier says there’s been engagement with the Cascade County program, but he couldn’t give the number of how many have come forward, saying it’s too few and could be identifying.

Gov. Greg Gianforte acknowledged the program requires a lot of trust from participants.

“But we can't keep doing the same thing and expect a different outcome," he said.

The program also relies on substance abuse treatment programs. Montana’s mental health care system is strained and short staffed, but Meier says there will be no cap on the number of participants in the Angel Initiative.

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