Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Grant aims to turn Flathead County Health Department into regional hub for overdose prevention

Daily Inter Lake | May 24, 2023 12:00 AM

The Flathead City-County Health Department will become a hub for training resources and naloxone distribution for several Northwest Montana communities after receiving a $173,000 grant to combat opioid overdoses.

The grant is part of a project aimed at creating regional hubs for reducing opioid deaths in Montana, according to an email from Health Department spokesperson Malia Freeman. The Overdose Education and Naloxone Distribution grant was awarded by the Montana Public Health Institute, which received funding from the Montana Department for Public Health and Human Services as part of opioid prevention efforts across the state.

A December 2022 report from the state Health Department said nearly 300 people in Montana died of a drug overdose between 2019 and 2020. The state has also seen a rise in fentanyl-related opioid overdoses reported due to an increase in the presence of counterfeit pills and other fentanyl-laced drugs.

In response, the agency worked with the state Legislature to distribute over 26,000 naloxone kits throughout Montana by October 2022. They said 445 people statewide have received certification to lead further training in their communities on how to use naloxone.

Naloxone, better known by the brand name Narcan, is a medicine that rapidly reverses an opioid overdose. It attaches to opioid receptors, reversing and blocking the effects of other opioids.

Freeman said the Health Department’s work will include rolling out an 18-month pilot project to partner with organizations and stakeholders in Region 6, which covers Flathead, Lincoln, Mineral, Lake, Sanders, Missoula and Ravalli counties. She said the goal is to give other groups the training and education they need to prevent opioid overdoses in their communities through education, engagement and use of naloxone.

The Flathead City-County Health Department has already been a local hub for preventative measures against opioid overdoses. Since 2019, they have run a harm reduction program and served as a main driver of naloxone distribution and overdose education in Flathead County. Employees assigned to the program implement targeted outreach efforts for drug users and distribute naloxone to people most likely to witness an overdose.

“This funding fits nicely in this program as now we can use our experience and expertise to provide technical assistance to sites interested in helping their community prevent opioid-related deaths,” Freeman said in an email response.

In addition to their goal of reducing opioid overdose deaths, she said Health Department officials also hope to improve access to naloxone in places where people use drugs and are most likely to witness an overdose, increase the amount of individuals trained to administer naloxone, integrate harm reduction philosophies, and increase awareness of harm reduction and recovery resources.

Freeman said providing education alongside distributing naloxone creates a comprehensive approach to addressing the opioid crisis. Education raises awareness, promotes responsible practices and empowers individuals to recognize and respond to overdose situations while naloxone distribution ensures that a life-saving intervention is readily available, reducing the mortality associated with opioid overdoses.

An informational meeting about the Overdose Education and Naloxone Distribution project will be held virtually on June 26. Anyone interested in learning more or getting involved can contact Rachel Just at rjust@flathead.mt.gov or (406) 751-8256. Contacting Just is necessary to receive an invitation to the informational meeting.

Harm reduction services and supplies, including free HIV and hepatitis C rapid tests, are offered at the Flathead City-County Health Department in Suite 300 every Tuesday and Thursday from 1 to 4 p.m. on a walk-in basis. To learn more about the health department’s harm reduction services, including their Needle Exchange Program, contact the Family Planning clinic at (406) 751-8150.

Reporter Taylor Inman can be reached at 406-758-4433 or by emailing tinman@dailyinterlake.com.

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