- Associated Press - Saturday, August 26, 2017

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - The rate of methamphetamine use in Montana drunken-driving cases stabilized last year after several years of dramatic increases, according to the Montana State Crime Laboratory.

The lab’s 2016 report said the number of drunken-driving cases where meth was involved rose from 294 in 2015 to 301 last year, the Billings Gazette reported Saturday (https://bit.ly/2vqO9iY).

In 2011, the number was 73.

Crime lab director Scott Larson says the slower rate of increase is good news.

“We’ve had these dramatic increases every year,” Larson said. “And finally in 2016, we’ve dramatically stabilized.”

It is too soon to know if the 2016 results are the start of a long-term trend or if methamphetamine use will resume climbing, Larson said.

“We truly won’t know until we get into next year’s data,” he said.

The lab processes evidence from about 3,600 drunken-driving cases each year, and alcohol is the most common substance involved. In more than two-thirds of the drunken-driving cases, alcohol is the only substance detected.

Methamphetamine surpassed marijuana as the second most common substance in 2015.

The 2016 report noted that the use of “designer opiates” such as fentanyl is increasing in Montana.

Opiates are more powerful than heroin and are becoming more common in overdoses nationwide.

“It’s starting to creep in Montana,” Larson said. “We’re seeing these cases, (but) there’s not a lot of them.”

Some of the newest synthetic drugs are difficult to detect, Larson said, because the lab does not yet have a way to test for them.

That will requires additional communication between the Montana Department of Justice and local law enforcement to relay signs of overdose, especially when a toxicology report does not show traditional substances, Larson said.

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Information from: The Billings Gazette, https://www.billingsgazette.com

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