Law enforcement officials said they’re seeing larger amounts of drugs coming into bigger and growing Montana cities.

Capt. Ryan Stratman, commander of the Missouri River Drug Task Force, said the task force sees this trend in bigger, growing Montana cities like Bozeman, Livingston and Helena.

“Gallatin County and Bozeman, especially — we’re growing so fast that we’re starting to see the larger quantities,” Stratman said.

The drug task force goes after major drug trafficking organizations in Gallatin, Park, Meagher, Madison, Broadwater, Sweet Grass and Lewis and Clark counties. The organization works with the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Montana Department of Justice and local law enforcement in those areas.

Meth is still at the top of the list for drugs in the task force’s area. A spike in heroin puts the drug in the No. 2 spot and police are seeing some cocaine, though it’s not as prevalent as it once was.

During the task force’s 2019 fiscal year it seized about 21 pounds of meth from those counties, an uptick of about 8 pounds the prior fiscal year. The task force seized a little more than 3 pounds of heroin in fiscal year 2019, an increase of about 1 pound from the prior fiscal year. Cocaine went the other way on the scale, from nearly 1 pound seized in fiscal year 2018 to one-fifth of a pound in fiscal year 2019.

Stratman said the drugs are typically coming from major city hubs within states like California, Washington, Oregon, Utah and Colorado. He said it’s also arriving directly from Mexico.

That trend matches the DEA’s national narrative. Meth and heroin remains available in the United States, and a mixture of heroin and fentanyl is increasing, according to the DEA’s 2018 national drug threat assessment.

Meth produced clandestinely in Mexico accounts for a majority of the country’s supply, the report said. Local production of meth happens at much lower levels than in Mexico, and the report said that seizure of domestic meth labs continues to decline.

Along with the increases in amounts that law enforcement sees, Stratman said a majority of the crimes in the task force’s coverage area could be linked to drugs or alcohol.

Asked how serious the drug problem in Bozeman is, Straman said it’s always a concern to the task force. He said the organization is doing its best to target drug trafficking rings as the community grows, but always welcomes tips when people see suspicious activity.

“The community is the one that recognizes these issues,” Stratman said. “The more information they can give us, the better.”

The picture is similar in Bozeman. Police said they are seeing an increase in drug violations, and that meth continues to be a problem but it isn’t the most common drug officers see.

In Bozeman schools, Sgt. Hal Richardson, school resource officer, said the officers he supervises wrote a handful of citations last year for things like marijuana and alcohol possession. He said marijuana is the most common drug officers find in schools, though it’s “not your stereotypical green-leafy substance in your sandwich bag,” adding that THC oil and edibles are more common.

Jim Veltkamp, Bozeman deputy police chief, said officers had seen a decrease in meth, however, a spike happened within the last year and the drug has resurfaced. He said it wasn’t anything substantial, but officers are reporting seeing more meth.

Veltkamp said the more common drug officers find in Bozeman is marijuana and marijuana-infused products, some of which are obtained legally for medical purposes. He said finding that on someone brings a whole new set of rules like if it’s from another state and how much a person has on them.

Veltkamp said officers typically find other drugs, like cocaine, meth or an opioid, when they find marijuana on someone.

He said people should be aware that drug activity does happen in Bozeman and to watch for signs of drug use in others, but don’t be paranoid about it. Veltkamp said not to dismiss unusual behavior and report suspicious activity.

“Consider that that’s what might be happening and report it,” he said.

Freddy Monares can be reached at fmonares@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2630. Follow him on Twitter @TGIFreddy.

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