Havre Daily News
The second Hill County Methamphetamine Forum will give residents a more personal view of how the drug affects the community and its people. The majority of the time will be spent Tuesday night on a question-and-answer session with a panel made up of recovering meth addicts, members of local law enforcement agencies, and representatives of other organizations affected by the problem.
Each of the former addicts will give a brief statement on how they got hooked, how long they used the drug and how they recovered before they take questions from the audience, Hill County Attorney Cyndee Peterson said, adding that she hopes the presentation will drive the problem home for the public.
"I think the biggest thing it's going to do is make people aware that meth addicts are the people living next door, they're the parents of your children's friends," she said. "It's going to put an everyday face on the problem. The majority of people have a 'not in my neighborhood' kind of attitude. I really want the public to be aware of how deep the meth problem goes. It affects the person's family, their health and their job."
Peterson said she hopes those in attendance come with questions, because most of the forum will be devoted to the panel discussion. If people have questions but are shy about coming to the podium, they can drop them off at her office in the Hill County Courthouse or e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
"I hope people ask, 'What do I do if I think someone's using meth?'" she said. "'How do I approach them? Where do I go? Who do I refer them to?'
The discussion will also include representatives from the Tri-Agency Drug Task Force, Hill County Sheriff's Office, Havre Police Department, Juvenile Probation and Parole, Havre Public Schools, Northern Montana Hospital, HELP Committee and Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line, Hill County Health Department and the Hill County Extension Office.
The forum will begin at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Havre High School auditorium. Havre police Lt. Russ Ostwalt will join state social worker Sheila Dugdale to discuss a new policy of investigating child abuse and neglect in situations where meth is being used or made.
If children are present at a meth lab or around adults who are using the drug, the toxic substance can get into their system, Ostwalt said.
Police plan to hold the child's parents or guardians responsible. Ostwalt said he and Havre Assistant Police Chief George Tate will conduct a separate investigation, with the assistance of the state Child and Family Services Division, with the intent of bringing child endangerment and neglect charges against those involved.
"We would attempt to get blood from the children and work with Child and Family Services and the hospital to see if there's any meth in the system," Ostwalt said. "Little babies crawl around on the floor and put everything in their mouth, including their hands."
While drugs are an obvious priority for law enforcement, so are children, he said.
"We're now moving forward to make the parents accountable," Ostwalt said. "If they're going to use or make meth, they'll be accountable for the well-being of their children."
Dugdale said it is her department's responsibility to interview the children, make sure they are admitted to the hospital for drug testing, and make sure they have a safe place to go after their ordeal.