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Help is on the way: Montana receives funds to combat opioid addiction

State to receive about $75 million within two decades
Posted at 1:00 PM, Jan 25, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-26 17:06:21-05

BILLINGS — There were 28 drug overdose deaths in Yellowstone County in 2022. In 2023 that number soared to 39 suspected fatal overdoses. Physician assistant Ari Greenberg with Community Medical Services in Billings has seen the rise in opioid overdose deaths first-hand.

“From 2018 to 2021, there was a over 60% increase of overdose deaths (in Montana) that was measured between those three years,” said Greenberg.

While there's no single person or player to blame, some help is on the way with the Montana Opioid Abatement Trust.

More than a dozen drugmakers, pharmaceutical distributors, and pharmacies were sued for their role in fueling the epidemic, settling for billions of dollars.

“Montana is anticipating about 75 million dollars to come in over 16 to 18 years,” said RiverStone Health Vice President of Public Health and Clinic Services Eric Owen.

Eric Owen of RiverStone Health

As a representative for RiverStone Health on one of the regional committees for the trust, he knows better than most how that money will be divided in Montana.

Fifteen percent is going to the state, and another 15% to local municipalities.

“The remaining 70% is going to regional committees that have been set up across the state to make local decisions about how the money should be spent,” Owen said.

Funds are allocated based on population. Owen said the region encompassing Yellowstone County is anticipating about $8.4 million over the next 16 to 18 years, with the first round of $1 million arriving last year.

“Between 60 and 70 thousand (dollars) is what Billings was allocated," said Owen.

It's not yet known how exactly these funds will be used, but the money can only be utilized to mitigate or address the opioid epidemic.

“People put in applications to see the funds and our regional committee will review those applications, set the priorities for how the money will be spent, and make those recommendations to the state," Owen said.


Greenberg has some ideas.

“First two things would come to our minds is when we talk about, is the Narcan availability. Increasing that to our patient population at risk. Second thing is fentanyl strips,” said Greenberg.

Greenberg treats patients at Community Medical Center where they use medications like methadone to treat opioid addiction.

“These monies would greatly benefit those providing access to addiction treatment,” Greenberg said.

Greenberg emphasizes that providing medication paired with behavioral care is the most effective way to treat opioid patients.

“That’s the key right there, is increasing funds specifically for behavioral healthcare in conjunction with medications for opioid use disorder,” said Greenberg.

Ari Greenberg with Community Medical Services

Something he said won't be easy with the lingering stigma surrounding opioid addiction.

"Do I think this abatement trust fund will resolve the issue? No. I think the biggest issue is getting information out there, reducing stigma. Getting not only patients to accept and understand there's treatment out there for them but the general public to accept the treatment that's out there," said Greenberg.

The first round of applications for the trust is open and due at the end of February.

“After that, it’s going to be rolling process so as money comes in and is available, we can make decisions on how to spend it,” Owen said.