After spike in overdoses, Helena health leaders & law enforcement say help available

Posted at 7:16 PM, Jan 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-21 12:21:05-05

HELENA — This week, health care providers and law enforcement leaders have reported a spike of overdoses – about a dozen over just a few days – that they believe is tied to fentanyl.

Dr. Andrew Michel, St. Peter’s director of emergency services, said it’s been a challenging time for those responding to these emergencies.

“Especially pre-hospital – even the police force, who’ve been interacting with the patients when they’re near death, often requiring CPR,” he said.

MTN wanted to find out what recommendations leaders are making that could potentially save a life. One is the use of naloxone, commonly called Narcan. It’s an emergency antidote for opioid overdose that can quickly restore a person’s breathing to normal if it’s slowed or stopped.

“If you’re on a significant amount of narcotics – even by prescription – or if your loved one is addicted to narcotics, it would be wise to obtain some Narcan to have at home,” said Michel.

Narcan is available as a nasal spray or as an injection, without a prescription, at most major pharmacies. It can also be found free at some community health clinics. In Helena, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services identifies PureView Health Center and Lewis and Clark County Public Health as options.

Michel says the nasal spray is typically easier for people to use. However, he warns Narcan alone is not enough.

“If a patient is unresponsive – if they’re requiring CPR, they’re not breathing and you give them Narcan – the next thing you do is call 9-1-1 to be brought to the emergency department, as people can relapse and go backwards in terms of their breathing,” he said.

Michel says, at this point, their biggest recommendation is that anyone addicted to heroin or other opioids seek help.

“It’s important to reach out for help sooner than later, because you might not have the option later if you accidentally overdose and you’re alone,” he said.

Several clinics in the Helena area offer medication-assisted treatment for addiction.

“There are a couple medication options available to assist in the long-term treatment of opioid use disorder in our community,” said St. Peter’s addiction medicine specialist Dr. Kyle Moore in a statement. “These medications include buprenorphine (Suboxone) and naltrexone (Vivitrol). When prescribed properly these will NOT create new addiction – rather they help individuals manage addiction so they can recover. I encourage everyone with questions to ask their doctor or make an appointment with an addiction specialist.”

You can find links to additional substance use treatment resources, including those licensed to use buprenorphine, at the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s website.

Another option for people struggling with addiction and substance use is the Montana Angel Initiative. That new program allows them to come into a participating law enforcement office and get connected with treatment providers, without consequences.

Gov. Greg Gianforte launched the program along with the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office in November. Now, about 20 sheriffs across the state are planning to take part, including Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton.

When someone comes in to a participating office to say they need help, they can turn in drugs and paraphernalia without being charged or investigated, and the agencies will help them locate and coordinate treatment.

You can find more information about the agencies participating in the Angel Initiative on the DPHHS website. The program is not open to people with outstanding warrants or registered sex offenders.

In light of the issue of fentanyl-related overdoses, MTN is sharing more information about fentanyl. It is a synthetic opioid that was developed in 1959 and introduced in the 1960s as an anesthetic. It is 80 to 100 times more powerful than morphine.

Fentanyl was a contributing factor in the U.S. setting a record number of fatal drug overdoses last year. Illicitly manufactured fentanyl, also known as IMF, is often added to other drugs for its heroin-like effect and to make them cheaper, more powerful, more addictive and more dangerous.

In 2021, fentanyl overdose was a leading cause of death for adults ages 18 to 45 – outpacing COVID-19, suicide and even car crashes.

In the 2021 fiscal year, U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized 16,601 pounds of fentanyl and/or heroin. The southern border saw the highest number seizures, and it accounted for 15,556 pounds in 2021. Coastal and interior regions reported 1,017 pounds seized, and the northern border accounted for just over 28 pounds.