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Opioids are a class of drugs used to reduce pain. Some opioids are prescribed by doctors for moderate to severe pain (oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, methadone, and fentanyl), while others are illegal (heroin). Prescription opioids can have serious risks even when taken as directed such as addiction, abuse, and overdose.

Drug overdose deaths are on the rise nationally and are the third leading cause of injury-related death in Montana, accounting for 1,334 deaths between 2003 and 2014. Opioids are the primary driver of these deaths, with 44% of all drug overdose deaths in the state attributable to opioids (1).

Since 2000, more than 700 Montanans have died from opioid overdose. The rate of opioid overdose deaths in Montana peaked in 2008-2009, and has decreased significantly since then, bucking national trends. Montana opioid rate was 5.4 per 100,000 residents in 2013-2014 (2). Nevertheless, opioid misuse remains an issue in the state.

  • Montana has 70 opioid prescriptions for every 100 residents.(3).
  • One in seven high school students has taken prescription drugs without a doctor's prescription.(4).
  • Nearly 500 Montanans visited emergency departments for complications related to opioid use in 2016-2017 (Internal data from Essence).

People dependent on opioids are most likely to suffer an overdose. Non-fatal overdoses are several times more common than fatal overdoses. Those who are at a higher risk of opioid overdose include:

  • People with opioid dependence, in particular following reduced tolerance (following detoxification, release from incarceration, cessation of treatment);
  • People who inject opioids;
  • People who use prescription opioids, in particular those taking higher doses;
  • People who use opioids in combination with other sedating substances (such as benzodiazepines or alcohol); and
  • Household members of people in possession of opioids.

Management of substance abuse. November 2014. World Health Organization..

Overdose can occur whether the opioid is obtained with a prescription or illegally. The following tips can help avoid an opioid overdose:

  • Take medicine as prescribed by your doctor
  • Do not take more medication or take it more often than instructed
  • Never mix pain medicines with alcohol, sleeping pills, or illicit substances
  • Store medicine safely where children or pets can't reach it
  • Dispose of unused medication promptly

Opioid Overdose. March 2016. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. .

The information provided above is from the Office of Epidemiology and Scientifict Support, Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services MT-IBIS web site ( The information published on this website may be reproduced without permission. Please use the following citation: " Retrieved Thu, 16 July 2020 10:33:17 from Office of Epidemiology and Scientific Support, Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, Indicator-Based Public Healt Information System for Public Health Web site: ".

Content updated: Wed, 18 Apr 2018 11:38:17 MDT