No, authorities say, you won’t be able to stand downwind and get high.
Although law enforcement officers have surely seen enough addiction-spawned grief to envision that degree of desperation.
With great fanfare Thursday morning, representatives from federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies demonstrated a new incinerator in Butte that is designed to burn both prescription and illegal drugs.
Montana Attorney General Tim Fox was among the morning’s speakers at the Butte Justice Center off Wynne Avenue, where the incinerator is installed in a small outbuilding.
“Montana is in the midst of a substance abuse crisis,” Fox said, that strains both personnel and budgets as social service agencies, law enforcement officials, and jails struggle to respond.
“The financial toll pales in comparison to the lives affected by substance abuse,” he said, referencing, for example, the child who loses a parent to an overdose.
Officials said the new incinerator will provide a regional site for disposal that is efficient and environmentally responsible.
Montana Highway Patrol Capt. Gary Becker said the drugs will be torched with heat fierce enough to eliminate troublesome emissions and odors. He said intense heat was specified in the air quality permit the facility received in May from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. MHP will oversee the incinerator.
Anastasia Burton, a spokeswoman for the Montana Department of Justice, said, “The only thing you can see coming from the stack is the heat signature from the high temperature.”
The air quality permit specifies that the temperature in the incinerator’s secondary chamber must reach and maintain a minimum temperature of 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit before the material in the primary chamber is burned. The Butte incinerator’s fuel is natural gas.
The DEQ permit notes that a screening analysis “demonstrated that the facility poses a negligible risk to human health as required for permit issuance for an incinerator.”
The source of the money for the drug incinerator in Butte and similar new burn facilities in Great Falls and Billings traces back to a lawsuit settlement in 2014 between the state and Janssen Pharmaceuticals.
In 2008, the office of the Montana attorney general sued Janssen over its allegedly deceptive marketing of Risperdal, an anti-psychotic drug used to treat certain psychological disorders. The state alleged that Janssen had “actively deceived Montana physicians and consumers when it promoted Risperdal as safe and effective for a variety of conditions” while hiding from the public dangers associated with the drug.
In March 2014, Fox announced the state had agreed to settle the lawsuit for $5.9 million. Janssen did not admit wrongdoing.
Each of the three incinerators cost $42,165. There were additional costs for the structures housing the burners, for installation, and for air quality permits. The grand total for the three facilities came to $171,447, Burton said.
For several years, employees of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration have traveled around Montana twice a year to collect drugs from law enforcement agencies. The DEA has then transported the drugs to incinerators in Salt Lake or Spokane or even Tulsa, Oklahoma.
On Thursday morning, Bryan Lockerby of the state’s Division of Criminal Investigation said the three new incinerators in Montana will save time and money and allow law enforcement to devote their time more efficiently to the drug crisis.
According to the Montana Department of Justice, the rate of prescription drug overdose deaths in Montana has doubled since 2000. The department said prescription drug abuse is more than 15 times deadlier than methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine use combined.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse has reported that young adults, ages 18 to 25, are the biggest abusers nationwide of prescription opioid pain relievers as well as stimulants prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and anti-anxiety drugs.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said overdose deaths involving prescription drugs were five times higher in 2016 than in 1999.
Butte Sheriff Ed Lester said Thursday that he estimates substance abuse plays a role in about 85 percent to 90 percent of property and financial crimes in Butte-Silver Bow County. He said substance-abuse related problems in Butte seem to be worsening, in line with what is happening nationally.
Lester said methamphetamine remains a major regional concern but noted that police are witnessing an influx of heroin.
At Thursday’s event, Col. Tom Butler, chief of the Montana Highway Patrol, said success in drug busts has resulted in “evidence building up at a rate never expected.”
He said the three incinerators will help alleviate storage problems.
The burners also will provide a safe way to dispose of prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications turned in by citizens during National Prescription Drug Take Back Day events, authorities said.