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What is your opinion on the governor's decision to temporarily ban E-cigarettes?

“I don’t think they’re good for anyone. I agree with it.”

Emily Lowe

“I’m glad. I don’t want my kids doing it.”

Becky Conrad

“I prefer normal cigarettes.”

David Phillips

“I see what is has done to some people and I’m glad they’re taking correct steps to minimize it.”

Tyler Johnson

“Think it’s a good thing.”

Joe Davies

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Choosing a different path: How adult treatment court is changing lives in Montana

As Montana faces one of its worst drug epidemics in history, the outlook can often feel grim and hopeless. Through it all, there is a bright spot in the big picture of the war against addiction and that’s within Montana Adult Treatment Court, often referred to as drug court.

The drug court model was adapted in Montana in 1996 in Missoula. In 2008, the Seventh Judicial District in Richland County began its venture into drug court. The process of adult treatment court begins with a recommendation made, typically by the court. Once recommended, potential participants receive an assessment to determine if they are high risk, high need. If they meet that criteria, applicants go through chemical dependency and mental health evaluations. Participants are required to check in with their adult treatment court coordinator once per week, attend treatment court weekly and two self-help meetings per week.

“They have to follow all recommendations of their counselor,” said Samantha Damm, adult treatment court coordinator in Sidney. “That can be groups or one-on-one sessions.”

Participants have random urine analysis tests throughout the program, which typically lasts 18-24 months, although people aren’t necessary “kicked out” of drug court at the 24-month mark.

“It can be extended based on the participants own choices,” said Kayla Anderson, licensed addiction counselor with Prairie Hills Recovery Center. “If they have a relapse, we want to help them get back on track, so it could extend to a little extra treatment.”

The time spent in drug court is typically determined by the individual’s progress. No one is kicked out of drug court because they exceeded a certain time frame. Damm said research shows people who spend more than 16-18 months in the program experience higher success rates. Some people have spent more than three years in the drug court system.

Other requirements of the program include community service, various fees, obtaining and maintaining employment, and most importantly — remaining clean and sober. The program is broken down into phases, with participants moving up in phases as they collect sober days, community service hours and fulfill requirements of the program. Drug court is funded by a grant from the Department of Transportation, monetary contributions from Richland County, office space donated by Dawson County and private donations, which are accepted.

Richland County Sheriff John Dynneson said it was important for people to know participants are represented by an attorney throughout the process. Russ Hart is the defense attorney for the local adult treatment court and participants review and sign a contract with him.

Success within the drug court system can be interpreted in many different ways, from reduced recidivism to simply providing people who struggle with addiction the chance to live sober, even if only for the time in the program.

“Any one person that graduates the drug or DUI treatment court program that does not have additional encounters with law enforcement is a success,” said Seventh Judicial Court Judge Olivia Rieger. “Our goal is obviously to give them the tools to live a sober, healthy life and to avoid being in the criminal justice system in the future. Each one person we assist in doing that, that is a success.”

While the ultimate goal is clear, addiction counselor Anderson said she finds success in providing people with a new set of tools.

“While someone is in this program, they are given a tremendous amount of knowledge,” Anderson said. “Even if it is only for the time they are in this program, they are gaining something they wouldn’t have gotten… Even if they go back out and make a wrong choice and hang out with wrong people or use and get arrested, at least they have a chunk of time in their life when they got to experience what that sober life can be like.”

After completion of the program, people aren’t turned out without continued support.

“When they graduate, we’re all still here. They know we are all still a resource. If they contacted any of us, we could direct them to a resource that can help them,” Damm said.

Damm said she recently saw a former participant who graduated when she started six and half years ago. He was doing well, still sober and with his children at the grocery store. She said that’s what she loves about doing this kind of work in a small town, being able to see those successes live out their sobriety.

Blake Phillips, DUI coordinator for the program, said the personal success stories are important points of reflection, but there is more than just anecdotal data.

“On a programmatic level, I’ve spent a lot of time working with the data we have on our previous participants and we’ve always had at least 10, if not 30 percent, lower recidivism rates than any other drug treatment, prison program or just incarcerated individuals who are addicts,” Phillips said. “I would count that as an incredible success. It’s also worth noting we’ve had a lot of participants start businesses or work their way up in local businesses while they’re even participating in the program. Which I think has had a tremendous positive benefit on the community because we already have such a high rate of unfilled jobs. To be able to put these people productively to work in the community almost from day one has been a success, at least in my eyes.”

Finding and maintaining employment beyond their time in drug court may not seem like much to those on the outside looking in, but to someone who has struggled with basic life skills due to addiction, it can be life-changing.

“When people look at treatment court, sometimes they don’t always see it’s those small triumphs that we emphasize,” Anderson said.

Phillips also praised individuals who complete the treatment court program and reach back into the program to help others, whether it’s peer support or job opportunities. Judge Rieger pointed out an important difference between drug court and traditional court models is the support received.

“Some of them have never had anyone in these positions — counselors, coordinators, judges, law enforcement — be there to support them,” Rieger said.

Adult treatment court gives people an opportunity other than jail or prison. Instead of expecting someone to sit a jail cell for several years and reintegrate into society successfully, the program provides knowledge and tools for people to use in their immediate life.

“Many of these individuals, the only other option there is to institutionalize them,” Dynneson said. “They don’t get the opportunity to actually use what they learn. It’s good to see these individuals in the program want to learn, want to be part of the community, want to have families. They’re whole goal is to be successful in life. Maybe not everyone thinks they are successful, but a little bit goes a long way with them.”

While there is no mold for people who will perform better than others in drug court, Blake Phillips said one of the most effective predictors has been the space on the application where applicants state why they want to be in drug court. The coordinators put a lot of value into those statements.

“I don’t care what age you are or what gender or how long you’ve been in ‘the system.’ It’s really about how dedicated you are to not living like that anymore,” Phillips said.

It can be difficult to express the value of programs like drug court to people who think “they are getting off easy” without a jail sentence. Judge Rieger said it’s important to remember Montana Legislature has set the standard of no imprisonment on first-time drug offenses. Equally important is disproving the notion that adult treatment court is somehow “easy” or a “slap on the wrist.”

“This is not an easy program,” Anderson said.

She said community attitudes can often be a challenge, but treatment, accountability and learning to live a different life is not the easy way out.

“We try to help them see the more work you put into your own recovery, the better, and it doesn’t matter what people in the community think,” Anderson said. “Using is easy. Going to jail is easy. This program is hard. Recovery is hard.”

It’s not just about overcoming addiction either. Mental health also plays a large role in the process, which isn’t always well-received. Damm said she often encounters drug court participants who have a difficult time acknowledging mental health struggles.

Phillips said the two main components of adult treatment court are logic and compassion, noting there is too much data available that reflects locking someone in a box for five years and spitting them back into society isn’t the answer.

“It just doesn’t work,” he said. “We have to start treating these people. Treating them like we know they are suffering from a psychological and physiological illness… These are human beings who are struggling with something that a lot of us can’t fathom.”

All the uphill battles don’t deter the drug court team from throwing themselves wholeheartedly into their work. During adult treatment court hearings, it’s easy to see how much everyone cares about each other. Damm, Anderson, Phillips and Rieger can be seen applauding participants, congratulating them when they move up a phase and offering a candy bar as a reward for a successful hearing. Judge Rieger speaks in a much more relaxed tone than a judge in a traditional court hearing, instead addressing participants more as a peer. Participants speak frankly about their struggles or suspicions about the program. Honestly in encouraged. Victories are acknowledged. Support is awarded without question.

“The system can be a cold an harsh thing,” defense attorney Russ Hart said. “This setting is not a walk in the park. They are interacting everyday with a team of people who care about them and want them to do better. That isn’t always something that comes across to people when they’re in a traditional criminal justice setting. I think that’s the most important thing about this court.”

Photo by Amy Efta  

Meadowlark Brewing recognized at Great American Beer Festival

The Great American Beer Festival was held in Denver on Oct. 3-5, with over 9,500 entries in 107 categories (not counting subcategories), making it the largest beer competition in the U.S. Tim Schnars, left, and Travis Peterson of Meadowlark Brewing earned the gold in experimental beers for Fungus Shui and a bronze for Mob Barley in the aged beer category. “Placing in this competition signifies that a brewery makes world-class beer, and puts Sidney on the map for beer aficionados across the country,” Brewmaster Schnars said in an email. “We are proud to receive validation that some of the best beer in the world is made right here in Sidney.”

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Emergency ban on e-cigarettes to take effect Oct. 22

On Oct.8, 2019, Gov. Steve Bullock directed the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) to implement emergency administrative rules to temporarily prohibit the sale of flavored e-cigarettes.

The emergency rules will be filed on October 8, 2019, the ban will take effect on Oct. 22, 2019, and it will last for 120 days, the maximum allowed by law. The rules will expire on Feb. 19, 2020.

Link to the emergency rules: https://dphhs.mt.gov/administrativerules.

What are emergency rules?

Emergency rules allow the Department to respond to rapidly-developing public health crisis. They are adopted in circumstances where there is an imminent threat to public health, safety or welfare. The rules are temporary.

What do the emergency rules ban?

The emergency rules apply to all flavored e-cigarette/ vaping products.

Does this emergency rule impact medical marijuana?

The rule impacts all flavored vaping products, regardless of whether they include THC, nicotine, CBD or other substances.

How does this impact Tribes?

The emergency rules will not apply to the Tribal reservations in the state. The Tribes in Montana are sovereign nations, which have their own authorities to implement policies to protect the health of their communities. DPHHS would highly recommend the Tribes adopt similar policies as well.

Does this apply to online sales as well?

Yes, for any vapor products intended for delivery to a person living in Montana.

Under what authority is the department putting these rules in place?

State law (2-4-302) reads that emergency rules may be adopted only in circumstances that truly and clearly constitute an existing imminent peril to the public health, safety, or welfare that cannot be averted or remedied by any other administrative act.

How will the emergency rules be enforced?

DPHHS and the local health departments have authority to enforce this measure and will enforce it in the same way current tobacco protections such as the Clean Indoor Air Act are enforced. Inspections of retailers and citizen complaints will be used to monitor compliance with the rules.

What action is required of retailers?

Because this is a temporary ban, retailers at this time are not being asked to destroy products. However, products are required to be taken off shelves upon the rule going into effect on Oct. 22.

What happens if I violate the rules?

A person who violates any provision of the rules can be charged with a misdemeanor punishable by a term of imprisonment not to exceed 90 days and a fine of up to $500. Each day in violation of the rules is a separate offense. DPHHS or a county attorney can also sue an individual or business to abate or restrain activity in violation of the rules, and costs and fees related to that action awarded.

Who has the authority to enforce the rules?

DPHHS and the local health departments have authority to enforce this measure and will enforce it the same way current tobacco protections such as the Clean Indoor Air Act are enforced. Inspections of retailers and citizen complaints will be used to monitor compliance with the rules.

Why are flavored e-cigarettes being banned?

Protecting the health, safety, and well-being of Montanans and young people is of paramount importance. E-cigarette use is an epidemic among Montana youth. The dramatic increase in use of e-cigarettes, or vaping, by youth is driven in large part by flavored e-liquids, and flavors are a principal reason that youth initiate and maintain e-cigarette use. E-cigarettes are now the most commonly used tobacco product among high school students. The 2019 Montana Youth Risk Behavior Survey showed nearly a third (30 percent) of Montana high school students currently use e-cigarettes and more than half (58 percent) have tried them. Approximately 43,000 Montana youth between ages 12 and 18 have tried vaping products and 22,000 Montana youth are currently using vaping products. Between 2017 and 2019, the percentage of Montana high school students using these products frequently (on 20 or more of the past 30 days) has increased by 243 percent and daily use has increased by 263 percent. There has been a recent and alarming outbreak of vaping-associated pulmonary illness (VAPI) in multiple states. As of Oct. 4, this outbreak includes 1,080 confirmed and probable cases and 21 deaths linked to e-cigarette use in 48 states and one U.S. territory.

Montana has two confirmed cases, one individual in their 30s from Yellowstone County, and a second individual in their 20s from Gallatin County. Half of those effected are under 25 years old. People are using an array of products and no one product, brand or substance has been linked to all the cases.

What are some of the risks to youth from e-cigarette use?

Youth are uniquely at-risk for long lasting effects of nicotine exposure because the brain continues to develop until age 25. Nicotine exposure during adolescence harms the part of the brain that controls attention, learning, mood and impulse control. Nicotine, in any form, is unsafe for youth. Nicotine is highly addictive and can prime the brain for addiction other drugs in the future. Research indicates that youth who use e-cigarettes are four times more likely to become cigarette smokers, and the CDC states the surge in e-cigs has erased past progress in reducing youth tobacco use.

Are e-cigarettes regulated?

Not currently. E-cigarettes came under the purview of the FDA in 2009 but the FDA has consistently pushed back enforcement of these regulations. After public health groups sued this year, a U.S. District Court ordered that these regulations must be enforced no later than May 12, 2020.

Are e-cigarettes less harmful than regular cigarettes?

Youth who start using tobacco and nicotine products before their brains are fully developed are at a greater risk of addiction to other drugs. While some flavorings may be “generally recognized as safe” for food consumption, they have not been proven safe for inhalation. Some of the other chemicals in e-liquids and in the aerosol from e-cigarettes are known to cause cancer in humans. Heavy metals such as lead and cadmium that have been found in e-cigarette aerosol can cause respiratory distress and disease. The FDA has never approved these devices for tobacco cessation.

You’re banning flavored vaping products. Does that mean it is safe to use unflavored vaping products?

No. The Surgeon General, the CDC and DPHHS have issued recommendations that youth, young adults and pregnant women should not use these products and that adults currently using these products stop. The emergency rules regarding flavored vaping products are specifically focused on Montana youth.

Eight highlights from the first October meeting of Sidney City Council

Sidney City Council held its regular meeting Monday, Oct. 7, at city hall. Here are some of the highlights from the discussion:

1. Dianne Swanson from the Roundup asked the council’s permission to block West Main Street from Central Avenue to the alley for their Harvest Festival on Saturday, Oct. 26, 8 a.m. — 2 p.m. After consulting Chief of Police Frank DiFonzo, council agreed to allow the street blockage.

2. The debate of whether the Hedegaards should be required to put in a sidewalk during their driveway construction was moved to the street and alley committee after the last council meeting. Tami Christensen reported that after much discussion, the committee will meet again Monday, Oct. 21, at 5 p.m., to continue discussions with the city planner. Christensen said the committee feels the city code needs to be updated to reflect federal laws.

3. Christensen also reported on an easement located in the middle of Keith Backes’ property. The street and alley committee recommended Sidney Director of Public Works Jeff Hintz approach Backes with a reasonable offer to purchase the property. Hintz said he would do so after consulting with the city attorney and a surveyor before approaching Backes with an offer.

4. A new contract with Denning, Downey & Associates was signed by the city for auditing services for the 2018-19 fiscal year. The total cost of the services in the contract is $27,600.

5. The City of Sidney will be taking on an AmeriCorps member to digitize a searchable index of all city ordinances and resolutions. The cost of the AmeriCorps member will be $3,000 and the individual will be available to work on the project until Aug. 31, 2020.

6. Two resolutions were passed during the meeting. The first was Resolution 3824, which cancelled the Nov. 5 general election because no one running opposed. Resolution 3825 allowed Hintz to submit an application for a grant to the Montana Department of Commerce for the storm water study.

7. In Chief DiFonzo’s September report stated 46 adults were arrested; 10 felonies charged; 52 misdemeanors charged; 24 felonies reported; 130 misdemeanors reported; 120 traffic/criminal citations; 268 written warnings; 19 DUIs; 21 courtesy vehicle unlocks; eight animals impounded; and 596 calls for service.

8. Phase three application 13 for the Waste Water Treatment Plant was approved in the amount of $452,404.43.

5 things to know beginning Oct. 13

1St. Matthew’s Parish Center will host a fall dinner on Sunday, Oct. 13, from 11 a.m. — 2 p.m. Cost is $12 per plate, children under 6 eat free.

2Richland Red Hatters meet for lunch at the Elks Lodge on Wednesday, Oct. 16, at 11:30 a.m. RSVP by Monday, Oct. 14, to Sylvia at 798-3882 or Margaret at 488-4613.

3Miss Penny’s Creations will be painting a Hocus Pocus-themed picture at Meadowlark Public House on Wednesday, Oct. 16, from 6-9 p.m. Cost is $25 for adults and $15 for students. Fifty percent of proceeds will be donated to the Eagle Foundation.

4On Thursday, Oct. 17, Ken Duvall will host training for mental health services and referrals, as well as building community partnerships from 9 a.m. — 3 pm., VFW in Sidney. RSVP at cctpatvfwsidneymtoct19.eventbrite.com.

5Yellowstone River Rats Walleye Tournament begins Friday, Oct. 18, at Richland Park in Sidney with a andatory rules meeting at 6:15 p.m. Entry fee is $100 per two-person team with a maximum of 30 teams. Take off is Saturday, Oct. 19, at 7:45 a.m., return 4:30 p.m. Fishing hours are 8 a.m. — 4 p.m.