Combating Our Opioid Crisis

The opioid epidemic is a nationwide public health crisis

By Jim McCormick

The opioid epidemic is a nationwide public health crisis that has devastated communities.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the number of Americans who died from opioids dropped by approximately 2 percent in 2018, but this number does not tell the whole story. 

The implementation of state and federal regulations has helped to combat the issue of over-prescribing opioids. However, deaths from synthetic opioids have actually increased by 10 percent and account for two-thirds of all fatal opioid overdoses.

A growing number of Americans have died from overdosing on fentanyl, a highly potent synthetic opioid. Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. This drug is so dangerous that only two milligrams – equivalent to about a grain of sand – can be lethal. 

China is the primary source of global fentanyl production. After fentanyl is manufactured in China, it is shipped to drug cartels on our southern border with Mexico and our northern border with Canada, who then smuggle the drugs into the United States. Fentanyl can even be shipped directly to the United States through the U.S. Postal Service.

Montana’s location on the U.S.-Canada border makes our state particularly vulnerable to drug smugglers. The Havre Sector of the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) provides law enforcement support for the states of Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho. In 2015, CBP agents in this area confiscated 70 pounds of fentanyl. So far in 2019, CBP agents in the Havre Sector have seized 2,545 pounds of fentanyl.

In addition to drugs coming in through our northern border, we are also susceptible to receiving drugs that have been smuggled through Mexico. The Montana Highway Patrol has warned that many illegal drugs come here through the Washington-Oregon or Utah-Colorado corridors used by Mexican drug cartels. It is through these entry points that opioids are then distributed throughout Montana.

The state of Montana has taken action to protect its residents from the opioid crisis. Montana has implemented a prescription drug registry to provide doctors and pharmacists the tools they need to curb prescription drug abuse and have placed prescription drop boxes in pharmacies across the state. In 2017, the Legislature passed a law allowing for more access to naloxone, a life-saving opioid overdose reversal drug. Recently, Montana has secured over $4 million in federal funding to continue to combat the opioid crisis.

Though the number of opioid deaths in Montana has been reduced with the help of these successful programs, there is still work to be done. According to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, drug overdose deaths are the third leading cause of injury-related deaths in Montana.

The Montana state Legislature must utilize all available resources to prevent these dangerous drugs from continuing to harm our communities. There is no single solution to this complex issue, but Montana must continue to be a leader in combating America’s opioid crisis.

Jim McCormick is a Lewis and Clark County commissioner.

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