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With an “Astronomical” Growth in Meth Cases, where is the Montana Meth Project?

The news last week that Attorney General Tim Fox was planning to highlight his efforts to combat meth use in Montana led me to wonder where in the world the Montana Meth Project has gone?

The reports about meth in Montana are routinely grim, and many echo the rhetoric used by the Montana Meth Project in its heyday when law enforcement officials and those working the Project would routinely blame meth for most of Montana’s ills. In a 2017 report, the Montana Department of Justice described the explosive growth :

As this report reflects, our situation is grim: The total number of drug offenses in Montana has increased 559% since 1980. Drug violations driven by methamphetamine use, which went down from 2005 to 2010, spiked again in 2015. That same year, 57% of all violations were for marijuana, followed by methamphetamine at 31% and other narcotics at 7%. Heroin contributes to a smaller overall share of violations, but increased an astronomical 1,557% from 2010 to 2015. Of the adult felony convictions in Montana, 40% of all convictions are for possession or distribution of drugs or felony DUI, which make up three of our top five felony conviction offenses.

In a story published by the Great Falls Tribune, Attorney General Fox argued that meth was driving an increase in overall substance abuse, DUIs, and even deaths:

From 2011 to 2017, the State Crime Lab report, the first of its kind, saw a 375 percent increase in methamphetamine found in postmortem cases; a 324 percent increase in meth found in DUI cases and a 415 percent increase in methamphetamine found in controlled substance cases.

Given the resurgence of meth in Montana, I thought I would see more information from the Montana Meth Project, which came to fame for its efforts to combat meth use in the state before 2010. What I found was an organization that seems to have done very little for years, but that has managed to spend exorbitantly on administration and overhead.

A search of Google News and online news databases finds few media references since 2016. The organization’s web site is wasteland, with a resources page that doesn’t have an article more recent than 2012 available, links to a Twitter account that only has 459 followers, an “In the News” page that was last updated in 2016, and a Teen Council page that lists students so long out of high school that a Google search for one revealed her Linkedin page as a financial advisor. In fact, most of the Teen Council members listed today were the same ones listed in 2014-15 on an archived version of the page.

Another domain is focused on a section where young people can “speak up” about meth, but its two most recent posts are from March ’17 and April ’14. The other elements of the site rely on Adobe Flash, meaning most of the content will be unavailable to young people who stumble on the site.

And while the Meth Project Facebook page boasts a huge number of followers, its Instagram account (where the kids are) has fewer than 1,000 followers.

One part of the web site, though, is still operational: the buttons to donate to the Meth Project, and that led me to the organization’s financials. In its 2018 990 form to the IRS, the Montana Meth Project reported collecting $244,218 in contributions and grants, half what it raised the year before. Despite that, the organization reported $199,780 in salaries and compensation, perhaps all going to its executive director, Amy Rue, who received $176,635 in salary and $12,000 in other compensation for the year.

That total, just short of $200,000, was more than the Montana Meth Project spent all other expenses combined and was so much that the Meth Project spent down its savings by $125,922.

And for that $200,000, the Meth Project only spent $173,863 on all other expenses, including $14,400 for accounting, $25,614 for office space, and $6,888 for travel.

The Montana Meth Project has always paid exorbitant salaries to its staff, paying two executive directors almost $100,000 each back in 2010 and someone $50,000 for one hour of work a week in 2008 but it’s indefensible that it is paying an executive director $200,000 a year when she is managing a program budget that is 95 percent smaller than it was at the peak of the Project in 2006.

The non-profit world has no legal standard for overhead costs, but a rough guideline is that non-profits should spend between 15-35 percent of their revenue on administrative costs, and an established non-profit should be at the lower end of that range.

I’ve never been persuaded that the Montana Meth Project got the results it claimed—and the fact that so many young adults who were exposed to the ads between 2006 and 2009 have become meth users seems to support my (and the researchers’) skepticism. As concerns about meth reemerge in the state, lawmakers, candidates, and donors should ask hard questions before anyone from the Meth Project appears, hat in hand, asking for more money from public or private coffers.

Surely there are better ways to fight drug addiction than paying one person $200,000 to produce content of questionable value and limited impact.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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