Imagine a city boy who got mixed up with the wrong crowd is sent by his parents to live in an idyllic country setting to keep him away from life in the fast lane fueled by drugs and alcohol.
Some of those city kids might end up in Havre and the surrounding area, but parents might not be getting their children as far from trouble as they think, said Jerry Nystrom, Havre's police chief.
"Everybody's got the same problem," he said.
"It's just proportionate to your size."
The area has generational ties to strong work ethic and responsibility, but there is a tie to alcohol and drugs twined deep in the roots of the work-hard, p l a y - h a r d c u l t u r e .
Moderation is not always part of that tradition.
"Kids model behavior that they see," said Tim Brurud, director at the Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line.
Havre, with its population of roughly 9,000 people, is the social hub of the Hi-Line for drugs, Nystrom said, and many adults get drugs from the city.
"And the adults are going to target the youth just so that they'll have a future client base," Assistant Chief of Operations Gabe Matosich said.
Often, dealers will give free samples because they know that the youth will become addicted, he said, and they cater to youth by creating drugs in the form of cartoon characters or candy.
High methamphetamine use rocked the community several years ago, but proactive enforcement and prevention, like graphic advertisements, have lowered the drug's use.
"But there is some evidence of it resurfacing again," Matosich said.
Prescription drug use also is slightly on the rise, he said.
Even with all the other forms of drugs on the market, marijuana is the drug of choice again, said Pete Federspiel, the director of the Tri-Agency Safe Trails Drug Task Force.
Having medical marijuana legalized in the state has been causing more problems than usual, with patients distributing the drug to people not authorized to have it, he said.
Several such cases are being investigated by his task force, he said.
Alcohol viewed as larger issue Drugs are not the only problem for area youth.
Alcohol is arguably a larger problem and, in fact, was identified as the number one concern of area residents in 2008 through a prevention needs assessment.
Children are beginning to drink as young as when they're in the sixth grade, said Terry Hanson, Hill County program officer for the Montana Community Change Project.
Unless those children have some form of interruption to the habit, it can turn into a life-long struggle, placing strain on their bodies as well as on social programs, she added.
Youth can obtain alcohol merely by tapping on an adult's shoulder and asking them to purchase it for them, she said, and sometimes parents purchase it for their children in the hope of keeping them at home and from driving.
"So some parents think they're doing right by the kids," she said.
But in actuality, the parents are harming the children — alcohol is a toxin that affects brain development and a person's physiology, especially when still developing, she said.
Sometimes, youth get alcohol at events l ike fami ly reunions and weddings during which alcohol is served, and it's difficult to keep track of who has a glass.
The mindset is: "Wel l , they're just kids; we're all having a good time," Hanson said.
"These kids aren't having a beer," she stressed. "They're having a keg of beer."
Saying that alcohol, which is more socially acceptable than drugs like cocaine and heroin, is the lesser of two evils and that children could be taking hard drugs instead is a way of rationalizing a dangerous habit, Hanson said.
"It's legal, so therefore it's not as bad as something that's illegal," is not a valid argument in favor of alcohol , Hanson said.
The situation is not impossible to repair, though, she said.
"Let's intervene before it gets to be this big of a problem."
Inextricable issues Drugs and alcohol are directly correlated to other crimes, including thefts and assaults.
" I t ' s a ripple effect," Matosich said, naming sexual and physical assaults and vandalism as examples of other crimes that tend to be committed while the offender is under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
People steal to get money to buy drugs, Nystrom said, estimating that approximately 50 percent of other crimes are related to drugs and alcohol.
"(Alcohol is) always underneath it all," said Judge David Rice, district judge for the 12th Judicial Di s t r ict serving Chouteau, Hill and Liberty counties.
About 75 percent of the couple hundred criminal cases he hears a year have an underlying drug or alcohol component, he added.
Enforcement and the courts Drug networks vary in size and complexity, and investigat ions correlate wi th that .
Often, though, it's simple observations and tips that get drugs off the streets.
Proactive policing, like bike patrols, crimestoppers and concerned family members and friends reporting suspicious activity helps to nab drug offenders, Matosich said.
"A lot of it is just simply the officers out patrolling and coming across incidents," he said.
Sometimes, though, the laws that are set up to protect civil liberties interfere with enforcing laws to protect against drugs.
Montana law enforcement officers must have a search warrant, even if a K9 alerts officers to the presence of drugs, Nystrom said.
He wants stiffer penalties for drug offenders.
"Typically it's probation, is all they get," he said.
Being on probation puts offenders back in the community where they can continue to be deviant, he added, saying that he would prefer that they receive mandatory jail time.
"But we don't have room for them," he said.
Preventative measures like addict ion treatment don' t always work as ways to turn offenders away from the lifestyle.
"They just put their time in just to satisfy the court," Matosich said, adding that people have to want to get over addictions for the treatment to work.
Casework in juvenile probation for criminal possession of dangerous drugs is actually fairly low, said Kevin Buerkle, chief juvenile probation officer for the 12th Judicial District Youth Court.
When a youth performs a delinquent act while under the influence, the percentage of cases increases, he said.
Most of the youth involvement with drugs and alcohol occurs because of peer pressure and a lack of pro-social activities, Buerkle said.
"We hear there's nothing else to do," he said.
It's a reason that others in the community hear as well.
"We're bored," is the reason that most youth give for why they become involved with drugs and alcohol, said Krista Solomon, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club, which seeks to provide area youth with positive activities.
Part two of the substance abuse series in Friday's paper will examine some of the signs that a teen is using drugs and alcohol, how to address the issue and how parental and community involvement can help.