BILLINGS — Comparing 2020 to 2019, the number of drug overdose deaths increased 30% nationwide, while Montana saw a 12% increase in overdose deaths during the same time period, according to data released Wednesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The story is much the same in Billings when it comes to people reaching out for help with substance use disorders or mental health treatment, said Lenette Kosovich, CEO for the Rimrock Foundation mental health and addiction clinic.
"The pandemic actually produced a second epidemic, and that is a mental health crisis and an increase in substance use disorders. Our phones are ringing off the hook," Kosivich said.
The CDC recorded 92,000 overdose deaths in 2020, which is 21,000 more than in 2019.
During the pandemic, social-distancing rules made it tough for people to get the help they needed in person. In May last year, Rimrock Foundation saw a decline in patient visits before telemedicine technology was more widely implemented.
Montana saw 139 overdose deaths in 2019, compared to 157 overdose deaths in 2020. The drugs most responsible for deaths in Montana were stimulants like methamphetamine, and opiate drugs like heroin and other prescription pain killers.
"There's a high suspicion that a lot of people might be going without services. As of this past week, we've been seeing in the national news how there's been an increase of overdose deaths. We anecdotally know that is happening in our own community too," Kosovich said.
The number of people reaching out to Rimrock Foundation for help has increased 122 percent over the last three years. Staff track the number of referral patients who are sent to Rimrock by a private counselor or other governmental agency.
Rimrock Foundation Referrals from January to June
- 2019 - 283 referrals
- 2020 - 358 referrals
- 2021 - 629 referrals
"Just in the last 18 months or so, our referrals have more than doubled. The different types of referrals have also increased dramatically. That tells us that everybody is recognizing that this has really become a serious and significant problem," Kosovich said.
If someone is struggling with their mental health or addiction, the best thing they can do is reach out for help, Kosovich said.
"Continue to reach out. Seek out services. I know at our organization, we do everything we can to make sure we get people in," Kosovich said.
To find a state-licensed provider of substance use disorder care, click here to visit the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services website.