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'Couldn't stop using': Opioid overdoses on the rise in Montana

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Posted at 6:00 AM, Aug 31, 2023

BILLINGS — Thursday is Overdose Awareness Day and education about the epidemic is more important than ever in Montana as the problem grows.

Ari Greenberg is a physician assistant at Community Medical Servicesin Billings. He said he’s seen a spike in the number of clients utilizing their opioid treatment services.

“We have escalated from the low 300s in the beginning of this year to over 400,” said Greenberg at CMS on Tuesday.

Greenberg said the pandemic played a factor in the rise of clients he’s seeing.

“There was definitely an escalation between the number of people dealing with addiction and opiates and the onset of the pandemic,” Greenberg said.

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He said the influx of fentanyl into the U.S. coincided with the pandemic, creating a perfect storm.

“What used to be pills and heroin is a majority just fentanyl use,” said Greenberg.

According to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, EMS across the state responded to 659 opioid overdoses in 2020.

Those numbers have been rising steadily ever since, with 2021 at 908 overdoses, 2022 at 1041 overdoses, and 2023 is on track to top more than a thousand overdoses by the end of the year.

That’s why facilities like CMS are crucial to communities. They provide methadone to struggling addicts as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.

“We combine both the use of medication with social services or behavioral care such as counseling and therapy which gives a greater benefit,” Greenberg said.

“I found my company actually, Community Medical Services, CMS. I started methadone in May of 2009 and almost immediately my use decreased dramatically,” said Illinois-based CMS employee, Patrick Sullivan.

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Fourteen years ago, Sullivan was addicted to opioids and heroin, a battle he spent a decade trying to overcome.

“I started using more and more and all of a sudden, before I knew it, if I didn’t use I wasn’t feeling good and I was kind of stuck in this loop of I got to use just to feel normal,” Sullivan said.

He credits CMS to his recovery.

“It was a process but really minimal discomfort, nothing compared to what the withdrawals would have been if I decided to stop on my own,” said Sullivan.

He’s now clean and working for the organization that helped him, aiding others fight the battle he fought more than a decade ago.

“The reason I got into this field is I wanted to use my experiences to try to help other people. I’ve lost unfortunately too many people that I know and care about to overdoses,” said Sullivan.