State Crime Lab report highlights substance abuse crisis in Montana

Posted at 4:55 PM, Aug 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-01 18:55:02-04

GREAT FALLS – The Montana Department of Justice on July 18th released its Forensic Science Division’s 2017 Annual Report. The Division, often referred to as the State Crime Lab, analyzes crime evidence submitted by city, county, and state law enforcement officials.

The report, the first of its kind for the Crime Lab, outlines casework submissions, successes, and challenges for each of the forensic disciplines it houses.

The report also offers data on emerging drug trends in Montana, as well as toxicology summaries in driving under the influence (DUI), crash, and traffic fatalities for the year.

In a press release, Montana Attorney General Tim Fox said, “The State Crime Lab’s annual report confirms what we already knew: Montana is in the midst of a substance abuse crisis. The report reflects astronomical increases in methamphetamine and heroin offenses, which have placed an added strain on the Lab as well as on our courts and jails. My office is working with stakeholders across the state to develop solutions to combat this epidemic through our Aid Montana initiative. Clearly, our communities can’t wait a minute longer for efficient and effective policies to be found.”

Some of the report’s highlights include:

  • A 375% increase in methamphetamine found in postmortem cases from 2011 to 2017;
  • A 324% increase in methamphetamine found in DUI cases from 2011 to 2017;
  • A 415% increase in methamphetamine found in controlled substance cases from 2011 to 2017; and
  • A 1,234% increase in heroin found in controlled substance cases from 2011 to 2017.

Scott Larson, the Forensic Science Division Administrator, said, “I’m proud of the work our forensic scientists are doing to not only keep up with the demand, but to also decrease turnaround times while providing important services to Montana’s criminal justice system. We felt it was vital for this information to be released statewide so there is a better understanding of the work we perform and the challenges facing Montana. Our goal will be to continue releasing this report annually so trends affecting the criminal justice system can be examined.”

The report also says that the state Medical Examiner’s Office employs three forensic pathologists and two autopsy assistants.

Two pathologists work in Missoula to serve the needs of coroners in western Montana. One pathologist currently works St. Vincent Hospital in Billings to serve the needs of coroners in Eastern Montana. In 2017, a total of 575 postmortem examinations were performed (Missoula 321, Billings 254).