David Jay

BILLINGS (KPAX) - Montana's fentanyl crisis continues, according to state authorities.

According to the state Department Of Justice, anti-drug task forces have seen twice as much fentanyl in the first three quarters of this year, as they've seen in the last four years.

Those numbers have the attention of the Gianforte administration, which is now proposing a huge financial investment over the next several years to combat the problem.

Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen came to the Montana Highway Patrol (MHP) Office in Billings Wednesday to talk public safety, bringing top people from the MHP and the Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI).

There's been quite an increase in a lot of crime, and a lot of that is around drugs, mainly with fentanyl.

Billings has seen its fair share of crime in recent months.

The city has seen multiple shootings, and many in law enforcement say that violent crime can be linked to drugs.

"Drugs and especially fentanyl are causing a crisis in Montana that's resulting in a major crime problem," said Knudsen, a Republican. "We're seeing violent crime across all categories continue to spike in Montana."

According to the DOJ, anti-drug task forces in Montana seized 155,000 dosage units of fentanyl in the first three quarters of this year and 172 pounds of methamphetamine.

"Back in my day, a drug dealer cared about their product," said DCI administrator Bryan Lockerby. "Now they don't. They're willing to sell you whatever and if you lose, some people, customers along the way, that's the cost of doing business."

A recent surge in border crossings has many taking aim at the Biden administration's border policies, alleging that cartels are exploiting the chaos to smuggle fentanyl into the country.

MHP Colonel Steve Lavin says troopers often stumble upon drug trafficking and other crimes during traffic stops.

"The men and women of the Montana Highway Patrol are encountering this violence every day on the road," Lavin said. "With the current porous border, the illegal drug trade is ever increasing."

Because of that, Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte is taking action calling on lawmakers to invest in more agents and prosecutors to tackle the drug problem.

That proposal includes a $7 million investment in 2024 and 2025 for new patrol vehicles and firearms, along with more funding for 21 additional law enforcement officers and three new prosecutors.

"These new personnel will be focused on fighting drugs, human trafficking, major crimes, and crimes against children," Knudsen said.

This is a multi-pronged approach to a complex problem that continues to grow and one taking its toll on nearly every county in the state.