January 24, 2023
Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) and the Montana Department of Justice (DOJ), in conjunction with local law enforcement, have identified a sharp increase in fatal overdoses across the state in the last two weeks.
In this most recent surge from January 11 to January 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. Identified overdoses occurred in Cascade, Choteau, Custer, Flathead, Gallatin, Lake, Lewis and Clark, Missoula, Ravalli, Sheridan, Silver Bow, Yellowstone, and Mineral counties.
“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,” Governor Greg Gianforte said.
To help combat these challenges, the governor has been focused on increasing Montanans’ access to recovery and treatment programs and cracking down on criminals.
In addition to making a $300 million, generational investment in behavioral health, the governor’s Budget for Montana Families boosts funding for the HEART Fund (Healing and Ending Addiction through Recovery and Treatment) by 50 percent, investing in a full continuum of behavioral health and substance use disorder treatment programs for communities.
To hold violent criminals accountable, the governor worked with Attorney General Austin Knudsen to fund 16 new highway patrol troopers and criminal investigators, as well as six new prosecutors at the Montana Department of Justice.
The governor’s budget also permanently funds eight treatment courts across the state that are losing federal funding.
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.
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 fentanyl. Fentanyl 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 DOJ statistics, seizures of fentanyl by law enforcement has increased dramatically in Montana; nearly three times more fentanyl was seized in the first three quarters of 2022 than in all of 2021.
A DPHHS Health Alert Network (HAN) 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. “The timely administration of naloxone may successfully reverse an individuals’ symptoms and save their life.”
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.