By KELLYN BROWN, Chronicle Staff Writer

The criminal justice system can’t fight the methamphetamine epidemic alone, Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath said Tuesday morning.

Local judges, law enforcement officers and community leaders need to help raise the awareness of methamphetamine problems in the community, especially regarding the drug’s impact on children, McGrath told a group that gathered for breakfast at the Best Western GranTree Inn.

“Meth is particularly nasty stuff, and it is going to take a comprehensive, sustained, communitywide effort to combat it,” McGrath said.

During his “Meth-Free MT” breakfast, McGrath outlined how his department is going to use a $2-million federal grant to help battle meth use statewide.

McGrath said the federal grant will be funneled in three directions: law enforcement, treatment and education and prevention.

“Methamphetamine is not just another drug,” McGrath said. “There has never been anything like it before in Montana. It’s highly addictive and hard to treat.”

The federal grant is particularly important given the Republican-controlled Legislature’s failure to adequately fund anti-methamphetamine programs in the state, McGrath, a Democrat, said.

He said the lack of funding results in myriad problems, including long waiting lists for drug-treatment programs, which in turn ignite relapses by abusers.

Gallatin County Sheriff Jim Cashell, speaking at the breakfast, also emphasized the high cost of fighting meth, saying that to clean up a single meth lab can cost $15,000.

“The cost of dealing with methamphetamine is astronomical,” Cashell said. “All you have to do is read the newspaper to know it’s a problem.”

The forum was just one leg of a seven-city tour calling for greater coordination in the fight against meth. The tour includes stops in Butte, Billings Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell and Missoula.

“Children in families affected by meth use face an especially rough road,” McGrath said. “Communities must be responsible to protect our children. Groups like you can ensure that.”

McGrath discusses ways to stamp out meth use