GREAT FALLS — Several organizations, including the the United Way of Cascade County and the Great Falls Police Department, are coming together to form a Drug-Endangered Children Alliance. It's part of a national effort to help people recognize and respond to children impacted by drug use by parents or caregivers.
"When you look at the community problem that we have concerning the use and misuse of dangerous drugs, it's a community problem that's going to take a community approach to address it,” said Cascade County Sheriff’s Office Detective Justin Kambic.
Kambic and Great Falls Police Department Detective Scott Fisher are two people participating in the program.
"It's not an issue of just taking people to jail. That's not what this is about. That's a component, that's a piece but the bigger picture is to address the generational cycle of abuse,” Kambic said. "You don't have to be a cop very long before you take someone to jail, you arrest them for criminal distribution or possession of dangerous drugs and then a couple years -- two years, three years, five years -- down the road those kids are going through the same place because they live in that environment."
According to the National Alliance for Drug Endangered Children, there is currently only one other such program in Montana.
"It was brought to me about three years ago that there's a national type of falling short when it comes to children that are exposed to narcotics. You have the drug task force, you have all the cases involving narcotics which are going after the users and the pushers and whatnot and the children seem to get pushed to the side,” Fisher said. "So we found out the children in that environment, not necessarily quote unquote meth labs, but just being exposed to parents who are addicted can get exposed themselves. They will go through the exact same intoxication and withdraw symptoms that an adult will. I've had children that have narcotics in their system that are at the levels of an adult user."
The Dandelion Foundation in Great Falls is also participating in the Cascade County program.
Katie Cunningham, the organization's president, says the focus is on participants using the training they've received from the National Alliance for Drug Endangered Children to train others.
"We want to get out to the cable providers, we want to get out to FedEx, UPS drivers, postal service people. People who are in and around these children's lives, even just for a brief moment. Educators, doctors, everybody,” Cunningham explained. "They need to have this information because there's also some misinformation out there, too, around kids and drugs and what's harmful and what's not so we need to get on the same page."
Easier said than done, but a page that is an important part of the next chapter of addressing drugs in Cascade County.
If you’re interested in the training or want to learn more about the program, call the Dandelion Foundation at 406-231-1397, Kambic at the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office at 406-454-8106, or Fisher at the Great Falls Police Department at 406-727-7688.