Montana agencies warning of increased opioid overdoses; Narcan available at CCHD

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services and the Montana Department of Justice, in conjunction with local law enforcement, have identified a sharp increase in fatal overdoses across the state over the last two weeks.

From Jan. 11-23, a total of 28 non-fatal and eight fatal overdoses, likely due to opioids, have occurred in 13 different counties affecting individuals aged 24 to 60 years old, according to the agencies.

Identified overdoses occurred in Cascade, Choteau, Custer, Flathead, Gallatin, Lake, Lewis and Clark, Missoula, Ravalli, Sheridan, Silver Bow, Yellowstone, and Mineral counties.

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“Like states across the nation, Montana has seen an alarming rise in fentanyl and opioid use and, as a result, a tragic loss of life. As families grieve the loss of loved ones, I ask Montanans to help get the word out that one pill can kill,” Gov. Greg Gianforte said in a release.

To help combat these challenges, state officials have been working to increase access to recovery and treatment programs and increasing law enforcement efforts.

The governor’s budget put $300 million in behavior health and increased funding for the Healing and Ending Addiction through Recovery and Treatment program by 50 percent, according to state officials.

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The Montana Department of Justice has added 16 new highway patrol troopers and criminal investigators, as well as six new prosecutors.

The governor’s budget also permanently funds eight treatment courts across the state that are losing federal funding, according to a state release.

“In the recent surge, many of those who experienced an overdose were noted to have a history of substance misuse. Five of the eight fatalities involved females. Decedents were likely using opioids while alone and were found by bystanders too late for the successful application of the opioid reversal drug, naloxone,” according to a state release.

“Initial reports note the presence of pills, commonly referred to as M30 pills because of the way they are marked, which likely contain illicitly manufactured fentanylFentanyl is a synthetic, short-acting opioid analgesic intended to treat severe pain in individuals with cancer. Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine. Counterfeit pills containing fentanyl are becoming increasingly common nationally, and in Montana, and are taken by people who misuse diverted prescription opioids as well as those who inject, smoke, or snort drugs,” according to the release.

Narcan available at CCHD for opioid overdoses [June 2022]

According to DOJ statistics, seizures of fentanyl by law enforcement has increased in Montana and nearly three times more fentanyl was seized in the first three quarters of 2022 than in all of 2021.

A DPHHS Health Alert Network message to local and tribal health departments, EMS agencies, law enforcement and public health agencies was issued this week.

The HAN provides several recommendations, including having naloxone, an opioid-reversal agent – on hand for individuals at-risk for opioid-related overdose and family members and friends of those at-risk.

“Naloxone is a life-saving tool that is widely used in Montana when someone is experiencing an overdose,” DPHHS Director Charlie Brereton said in a release. “The timely administration of naloxone may successfully reverse an individuals’ symptoms and save their life.”

GFPD warning of fake pills cut with fentanyl, overdoses [April 2022]

In June 2022, the Cascade City-County Health Department announced it made nalaxone, produced under the brand name Narcan, available at their downtown location at 115 4th St. S.

As of Jan. 25, CCHD had 46 boxes of Narcan.

CCHD has typically been giving them to community agencies that have asked for them, but they are also available to the public with a brief training on administration.

Naloxone reversal may only be temporary, so 9-1-1 should still be called. Signs of an overdose include:

  • Loss of consciousness or falling asleep
  • Small, constricted “pinpoint pupils”
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Choking or gurgling sounds
  • Limp body
  • Pale, blue, or cold skin
  • Slow to no heartbeat

Montanans can access naloxone at no charge from select community organizations and pharmacies. The Montana DPHHS Naloxone website includes information on how to obtain naloxone through the state standing order. First-responders, public health professionals, and others may take part in DPHHS-sponsored naloxone master trainer courses to learn to train others to properly administer naloxone in the event of a witnessed overdose.

Public health professionals encourages individuals that use opioids to make sure a trusted friend or family member is aware and that they know how to administer naloxone in the event of an overdose.