HELENA — The United States reached a tragic milestone in 2021 earlier this month as more than 100,000 people died from drug overdoses.
Opioid overdoses accounted for nearly two-thirds of those deaths, a new record.
A US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate showed that between 1999 and 2019, 500,000 people had lost their lives due to opioids and prescription pills.
Between 2015 and 2020, Montana reported 745 overdose deaths, with the highest number of 287 deaths, in the two-year period encompassing 2019 and 2020.
Helena resident Sarah Grantham says addiction to prescription pills almost took her life and felt it could happen to anyone, “I grew up lucky in a very loving, very supportive family,”
She started taking prescription pills when she was a teenager after having some health issues.
“A lot of lung issues, and I was hospitalized in the ICU very seriously for pneumonia several times, and so my pulmonologist was prescribing me a 150 codeine and 100 oxycodone every month.”
Grantham says that led her to become addicted to opioids. In college, she tried to hide her addiction from her friends.
“Pills are not socially acceptable; I was in a sorority, so I would take pills before we drink. And, I would be two drinks in, and my roommates and boyfriend would be wondering why is she passed out,” she explained.
Additionally, Grantham says that she feels there are some misconceptions about addictions being considered a disease.
“Once you start using, you lose that power of choice because you are hooked, and all you are doing is looking for your next drink or your next drug, and you have lost that power of choice, and people without addiction do not understand that.”
Regarding prevention, education and policy have played a key role. House Bill 86, passed by the 2019 Montana Legislature, created new controls in the state around opioid prescriptions.
Additionally, it created a registry and required most doctors and pharmacies to check it before prescribing or filling prescriptions. It also limits some patients to no more than a seven-day supply of the drug.
“When opioids are used in a clinical setting now, the emphasis now is prescribing the lowest effective dose and limiting the quantities prescribed specifically to the clinical situation,” explained Acting Department of Public Health and Human Services state medical officer Dr.Maggie Cook-Shimanek.
There are options for those who want to seek help. For example, Our Place at 631 North Last Chance Gulch in Helena offers a support group from 1 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Thursdays and from 9:30 a.m. until 10:30 a.m. on Tuesdays 9:30 AM to 10:30 AM.
The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services also has compiled a list of addiction and substance abuse resources from across the state on their website.