In Montana, drug overdose deaths are on the rise. Since 1999, they have increased from 4.6 to 15.6 per 100,000 people, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
“Opioid use is the primary driver of drug overdose deaths in the state of Montana,” said Jason McNees, a certified behavioral health peer support specialist with Helena Indian Alliance. “Thirty-five percent of all drug overdose deaths are attributable to opioids.”
Fortunately, residents can help combat these deaths.
What people can do
In recent years, fewer opioid prescriptions, improved opioid disposal options, and effective overdose treatments have helped combat the drug epidemic. Significantly, the Food and Drug Administration approved a nasal spray overdose treatment, naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan.
“Naloxone is an opioid agonist used for the complete or partial reversal of opioid overdose,” McNees said. “This medication is only effective on opioids, though will not cause harm if used in other scenarios, but will have no effect on other drugs.”
An agonist is a substance that binds to a receptor and, when inhaled, naloxone blocks opiate receptors in the nervous system. The following are symptoms of an opioid overdose, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration:
- Loss of consciousness.
- Purple or blue fingernails and lips.
- Vomiting or gurgling noises.
- Slow or stopped heartbeat.
Once you administer naloxone call 911 or take the person to an emergency medical facility immediately.
In the Helena area, naloxone is making a big difference.
“Narcan helps the Helena area by providing safe and easy access to lifesaving medication that can be easily used in opioid overdose scenarios,” McNees said. “This medication can be the difference in life and death when an individual is exposed to fentanyl and/or accidentally overdoses on opioid medications and/or heroin.”
Local treatment for substance use disorders
McNees sees people struggling with substance use disorders on a daily basis in his work at Leo Pocha Memorial Clinic at the Helena Indian Alliance. In addition to medical treatment, he helps patients develop strategies for overcoming addiction.
“I work with clients struggling with substance use disorders and mental illness to build safe and healthy coping strategies, reintegrate after incarceration and hospitalization, and train community members on Medications for Addictions Treatment and naloxone administration," McNees said.
Annually, the local clinic trains 200 people on safe naloxone administration and is the biggest naloxone distribution site in the Helena area. Free training classes are offered to the public throughout the year.
The Helena Indian Alliance provides medical treatment to anyone in the area, with particular emphasis on serving the mental, physical, spiritual, and social welfare of the local Native American population. This historically underserved population tends to be at higher risk for many health conditions, including substance abuse disorder.
To combat the risks, communities can support people suffering from substance use disorder.
“Increasing ease of access to medications for addiction treatment, in-patient chemical dependency treatments, and reduction of stigma are key factors,” McNees said. “Community education on the barriers, stigma, and difficulty those suffering encounter may increase community knowledge that addiction does not discriminate. Education that addiction is not a crime and that most addicts want to get help but just don’t know how to access tools needed to recover can help to decrease stigma associated with substance abuse.”