Statewide efforts aim to combat opioid epidemic


MISSOULA, Mont. - It's been called a national epidemic unlike any other. Overdose is the leading killer in the United States, now surpassing HIV, car crashes and gun deaths at their peak.

"This is a fight we all have to join in together," said Jean Branscum, the CEO of Montana Medical Association.

Between 2000 and 2015 nearly 700 people in Montana died from opioid overdoses. A movement launched by Montana lawmakers and health care providers hopes to fix that.

The Missouri attorney general announced a lawsuit Wednesday against three opioid manufacturers, Endo Pharmaceuticals, Purdue Pharmaceuticals and Janssen Pharmaceuticals.

"We have very positive trends in Montana. We are seeing the number of prescriptions that are written going down in regards to opiates," said Branscum. "We're also seeing Montana being one of the very few states where deaths are declining."

"It really affects all of us. Probably everybody knows somebody who, whether they admit to it or not, has an opioid problem," said Carter Beck, the director of neurosurgery at St. Patrick Hospital and the legislative chairman for the Montana Medical Association.

The Know Your Dose campaign provides information tools for patients and providers to help prevent and treat opioid abuse.

"We do this by recognizing how to dispose of drugs in the right way. Recognize that the patient has to ask good questions about the side effects of opiates and educate our health care community about looking at alternative therapies for patients that need pain relief," said Branscum.

Katherine Schwartz is a clinical psychotherapist and helps sufferers of chronic pain and addiction. She says opiates impact the brain's center of pleasure and euphoria to change the body's perception of pain.

"The more we use the higher that euphoria gets, as well as the tolerance level. When people use more than they're supposed to or they go to the streets that's when we start to see the addiction rise," said Schwartz.

On an average day in the U.S. more than 650,000 opioid prescriptions are written. Nearly 4,000 people will abuse them, and 78 people will die from an opioid-related overdose.

"We're all to blame, and we're all a part of the solution. We should all take responsibility and gather together to solve the problem," said Beck.

Here is a list of health care providers if you or someone you know needs help:

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services Montana's Addictive and Mental Disorders Division The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
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