Montana’s battle against opioid abuse shows progress
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana’s decade-long battle against opioid abuse is showing progress, but there is more to be done, state officials said Wednesday.
From 2012 to 2017, Montana physicians prescribed fewer and less powerful doses of opioids while the number of people on high doses also declined, according to a report compiled by the state health department and the Montana Board of Pharmacy after analyzing data from the Montana Prescription Drug Registry.
The report also says that while Montana’s overall overdose death rate has remained relatively stable, the number of deaths attributed to opioids has been declining.
Gov. Steve Bullock said Montana is ahead of the game because it recognized the opioid addiction issue early and acted.
Since 2008, the state has implemented a prescription drug registry, prescription drug drop-off locations and increased access to substance abuse treatment, in part through Medicaid expansion.
In 2017, the Legislature passed a law allowing anyone to get naloxone _ which reverses the effects of an opioid overdose _ without a prescription.
Emergency room physician Bill Gallea said the naloxone law has played a critical role in saving lives.
While opioids given in proper amounts can alleviate pain, taken in higher doses or in combination with other medications, opioids can suppress and even stop your breathing, Gallea said.
“In our battle to prevent death from overdose, our goal is to have naloxone in every fire truck, every squad car, every clinic and school and to be carried by everyone who is prescribed a high dose of opioids, or is perhaps addicted, and carried by anyone who might encounter a friend or family member who is at risk for an overdose,” he said.
“We’ve not yet achieved our goal of universal distribution of naloxone to all the appropriate individuals, but we are making progress,” Gallea said, noting that in the first nine months of this year, naloxone has been used over 500 times by first responders.
Another key to reducing opioid abuse is making more medication-assisted treatment available, said Cindy Stergar, CEO of the Montana Primary Care Association.
The association has been providing training to primary care providers so they are qualified to prescribe medication that can help ease the withdrawal symptoms of reducing or ending opioid use. Two years ago, Montana had about two dozen such providers. Now there’s 150, she said.
Over 600 people are receiving medication-assisted treatment through community health centers and urban Indian Health Service centers, Stergar said. The number is double that across the state.
Prescriptions for buprenorphine saw a major increase in 2017, the report said, indicating more people are receiving medication-assisted treatment.
Montana’s Substance Use Disorder Task Force has updated its knowyourdosemt.org website with information on identifying and treating opioid use disorder, better ways to manage patients with chronic pain, federal prescribing guidelines and how to taper patients to lower opioid doses.
The task force hopes the education will “help find a balance between people who we can help through opiates and those who might be harmed,” said Mark Mentel, a task force member and president of the Montana Medical Association.
People picking up prescriptions for opioid pain medication such as hydrocodone or oxycodone have to provide identification under a new law that took effect Tuesday.