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Montana’s Spike In Fentanyl-Related Overdoses And Deaths Continues From 2020

Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services

Montana health and law enforcement officials say a sharp increase in overdoses and deaths from synthetic opioids last year isn’t showing any signs of slowing down in 2021. 

The number of fentanyl-related overdose deaths doubled last year compared to 2019. So far in 2021, Montana is on track to match or surpass those numbers with 22 deaths through May. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. 

Half of this year’s fentanyl-related fatalities were recorded in April alone and occurred in some of Montana’s more populous counties like Flathead, Yellowstone and Missoula.

Alyssa Johnson with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services says it’s not just deaths that are on the rise.

“We are seeing an increase in the number of naloxone doses given and the number of opioid overdose-related 911 responses,” Johnson says.

Naloxone can quickly reverse an opioid overdose. According to DPHHS, the average number of overdose calls to EMS agencies has shot up to 54 per month so far this year, a slight increase over 2020 and over double 2019’s numbers.

Bryan Lockerby with Montana Department of Justice Criminal Investigation Division says there have been spikes in fentanyl use reported across the country. He says local, state and federal law enforcement officials are investigating. Lockerby says fentanyl has become easier to smuggle than traditional heroin and has been showing up in pills made to look like legitimate opioid prescriptions. 

He says fentanyl’s increased presence is having a lethal impact. 

“You just need a very small dosage amount to die, and that’s why we’re taking this so, so very seriously,” Lockerby says.

Health officials remind Montanans that naloxone is available without a prescription, and training to administer the life-saving medication is available on the health department’s website.

Aaron graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Journalism in 2015 after interning at Minnesota Public Radio. He landed his first reporting gig in Wrangell, Alaska where he enjoyed the remote Alaskan lifestyle and eventually moved back to the road system as the KBBI News Director in Homer, Alaska. He joined the MTPR team in 2019. Aaron now reports on all things in northwest Montana and statewide health care.
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