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Montana Fighting Back Against The Opiate Epidemic

President Obama announced a plan in early October to address the national opiate epidemic with federal programs. There are lots of prescription opiates available out there, and many patients seeking them. The fact that cheap and potent heroin is also available is just adding fuel to the opiate abuse fire plaguing the country. The President ordered federal agencies that employ health providers to start training programs to educate those who prescribe prescription painkillers. The President's administration has proposed a $133 million in treatment programs and is heavily pushing rehabilitation rather than incarceration.

For many states, waiting for federal programs to start is not an option. One state that can not wait is Montana, where by prescription drug overdoses, primarily opiate paikillers, account for more deaths than cocaine, meth and heroin combined, according to Attorney General Tim Fox.

“It’s a huge epidemic and I think it’s largely gone under the radar,” Fox said. “Until we start talking about it and focusing on it, I think it’s going to be difficult to combat. That’s why we’re working so hard on this issue.”

Fox watched the abuse riddle the state of Montana before he took office in 2013. From 2011-2013 prescription drugs killed 369 Montanans and resulted in 7,200 hospitalizations according to a 2013 Health and Human Services report.

Montana took part of a settlement it won against a large pharmaceutical company to start the Prescription Drug Awareness Program in 2014. Starting the program cost the state $1.5 million. “The reason we did that is because we knew there were many different groups, organizations and individuals that were doing work to try to reduce prescription drug abuse and misuse,” Fox said. “But we felt that we needed to have them all working together and communicating.”

The federal government put together a drug drop box program which encourages pharmacists to put drop boxes in their stores so patients can drop unused medications for proper disposal. On top of having disposal boxes in stores, many local governments plan prescription drug take back days in their communities where they have locations on specific days that you can bring your unused opiates or any medications for proper disposal.

It is crucial to dispose of your unused medications the proper way. 70 percent of people who abuse prescription drugs are getting them from family and friends. There is no hiding the fact that prescription opiate abuse leads to heroin abuse. Prescription painkillers are more expensive than they used to be and heroin has become much cheaper and more potent. The combination of all of this is the perfect storm for disaster. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 80 percent of people using heroin first became addicted to prescription painkillers. It is very rare to start off using heroin without taking the prescription jump. Hopefully more states will be starting programs to help combat the opiate epidemic.

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