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$2 Million Grant Targets Montana's Worsening Opioid Crisis

Morphine pills.
Eric Norris (CC-BY-2)
Morphine pills.

The Trump administration this week released almost $500 million to combat the nation’s opioid crisis. 

Montana’s share of that federal funding from Health and Human Services is $2 million, the same amount it received last year.

Aaron Wernham, CEO of the Montana Healthcare Foundation, describes this grant award as a “phenomenal opportunity.” 

“I absolutely think this is filling one of the most critical needs we have in the state. I am optimistic,” he says. 

Wernham says Montana has a serious opioid problem that appears to be getting worse.

“We know that more than 90 percent of Montanans who have a substance use disorder are not getting treatment,” Wernham said. “We also know Montana has among the lowest capacity of any state in the union for providing medication-assisted treatment for opioids.”

Medication-assisted treatment is a combination of supervised outpatient counseling, coordinated social services and carefully managed prescriptions to help patients better deal with opioid addictions. 

“This medication-assisted treatment improves both health outcomes and social service outcomes,” Wernham said. “It can help keep people out of the corrections system, for example.”

Wernham says the $2 million federal Opioid State Targeted Response grant awarded to Montana last year, and now renewed for 2018, lays a badly needed foundation.

“My understanding of the way the state is using this grant is that it’s attempting, as we speak, to build the state’s capacity,” he said. “We’re getting more physicians and nurse practitioners and physicians assistants trained to provide medication-assisted treatment, and also trying to develop some sites around the state that have particular expertise in doing that.”

Later this year, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration will release details of a separate $1 billion grant to help states, territories and tribes hardest hit by the national opioid crisis. 

Meanwhile, Missoula County Public Schools announced today that a non-teaching member of the Meadow Hill Middle School staff was recently placed on leave due to recent charges alleging opioid possession and intent to distribute.

MCPS declined Montana Public Radio’s interview request today, but in a press release said there was no evidence to suggest the as-yet unidentified employee ever used or possessed any illegal substances on district property.

The individual was placed on leave pending a district investigation and subsequently resigned their position.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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