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Yellowstone County Coalition Makes Strides Toward Substance Abuse Plan

Katie Loveland speaks at Yellowstone Substance Abuse Connect Coalition
Kayla Desroches
Yellowstone Public Radio
Katie Loveland speaks at a Yellowstone Substance Abuse Connect Coalition meeting in Billings September 5.

A federally-funded group of substance abuse counselors, service providers and law enforcement in Yellowstone County met this week to work on a coordinated plan to tackle drug abuse in Billings and the surrounding area.

The Yellowstone Substance Abuse Connect Coalition released a comprehensive assessment of drug abuse in Yellowstone County in July.

The assessment confirmed that methamphetamine and meth-related violent crime is an issue.

Helena-based consultant Katie Loveland says there are a lot of different agencies trying to tackle the same group of problems and the next step is carving out a plan to tackle them in an organized way.

“And it’s fascinating to see where there’s strong things and then where there’s real opportunities to improve and some of it is just the sustained partnerships to where people are actually working together on an ongoing basis,” Loveland says.

Loveland was at a 50-person Yellowstone Connect meeting in Billings Wednesday and Thursday to help guide that discussion.

Among those present was MarCee Neary, the director of the Community Crisis Center, which provides counseling, referrals and social services to people struggling with mental health issues and substance abuse.

Over a lunch of wraps and tortilla chips, Neary says many of the most in-need people don’t have the insurance to cover available services. And without that insurance, they join a long waitlist for programs they do qualify for.

“They give up hope and they go out and use, they come back in our door maybe months later, they start the process over again, they get on the waiting list, sometimes their names come up, and because we’re a crisis center, we don’t follow them around, or they don’t have access to phones, so they got lost in the system,” Neary says.

She says her biggest concern is the lack of resources for those who need immediate help. She has hope that Yellowstone Connect can form a system that provides a way forward for them.

Yellowstone Connect has commissioned a plan based on input from meetings like the one this week in Billings. It should be released by the end of the year.

Kayla writes about energy policy, the oil and gas industry and new electricity developments.