Valley Journal
Valley Journal

This Week’s e-Edition

Current Events

Latest Headlines

What's New?

Send us your news items.

NOTE: All submissions are subject to our Submission Guidelines.

Announcement Forms

Use these forms to send us announcements.

Birth Announcement

Don’t judge, educate: New approah aims to help drug misusers survive

Hey savvy news reader! Thanks for choosing local. You are now reading
1 of 3 free articles.

Subscribe now to stay in the know!

Already a subscriber? Login now

“Every overdose is someone’s child. Don’t judge, educate.” This statement challenges public compassion as well as understanding of addiction. 

Tribal Opioid Response Director Kathy Ross intends to spread the message via T-shirts, bumper stickers and posters. Ross currently works to provide Naloxone lifesaving boxes to various entities in the Mission Valley including Salish Kootenai College, police stations, a Catholic Church, Arlee and Elmo Fitness Centers, the Quicksilver gas station, and many other locations, and others. She wants those who misuse drugs to live to make new choices. She hopes to put the boxes containing medication and instructions for saving overdose/poisoned victims in as many spots as she can. The more accessible the boxes are, the more lives that can be saved. “Keeping people alive gives them another day to make a choice,” she said. “It’s just putting out the fire because (they) can’t change once they are dead.”

Using the term misuse rather than abuse is intended in order to shift away from the shame often felt by users. Likewise, a current trend towards “harm reduction strategies” encourages addicts to use safe measures, (avoid using alone, test drugs, use sterile supplies etc.). Following many years as an addiction counselor, Ross frequently sees the success stories of those she’s helped and who now live their lives free of substance misuse. The opportunity to live another day provides another chance to become free of addiction.

Those who suspect a drug overdose, (no response, limp body, cold bluish skin etc.), should immediately call 911 and then administer Naloxone nasal spray. If you aren’t sure whether someone has overdosed, giving a dose of Naloxone will not harm them. Importantly, for those who hesitate to assist a victim for fear of being sued or arrested, Montana has “Good Samaritan Protections” described in the Montana Code Annotated, located at Title 50, Chapter 32, Part 6. 

Narcan, the first brand name medication containing Naloxone, reverses an opioid overdose by counteracting an opioid’s suppression of the victim’s breathing. The medication is available at nearly any pharmacy, from your doctor, at the SKC Community Health and Development Department (CHD), or are free of charge at local health departments. Those who misuse opioids, or know others who do, are encouraged to carry a kit. Approximately 50,000 people die every year, (nearly 70,000 in 2021 and 110,000 in 2022), because of an opioid/fentanyl overdose. Fifty times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, fentanyl, the deadliest of all opioids, continues to drive the rising death count. Drug overdoses (poisonings) happen across age groups, race, gender, and ethnicity groups.

Ross explained that path to the country’s current problem with opioid and fentanyl misuse is complex and has always been about money. From the opium wars between Great Britain and China in the 1800s, to today’s pharmaceutical companies’ huge profits, money always plays the key role. 

The most recent part of the nation’s drug misuse history can be traced to when Perdue Pharmaceutical was sued by the federal government for understating the addictive nature of oxycodone. Physicians then backed off prescribing oxycodone, but many people were physically habituated to the drug already. Some then turned to heroin and methamphetamines to avoid the pain of opioid withdrawal.

 Drug cartels, Ross continued, began putting fentanyl in illicit drugs like heroin and meth because of its cheapness, extreme potency and addictiveness. Unlicensed pharmacies and black-market drug dealers currently lace drugs with fentanyl to increase their profits and assure their addicted clients return. A schedule II narcotic, developed in the U.S. in the 1950s for pain relief, fentanyl can be easily created and put into look-alike pills that resemble prescription medication. Some people don’t even realize that fentanyl is what they are taking.

SKC Prevention Specialist and Public Health Educator Francis Gates explained that substance use disorder is neuronal, emotional, and physical and that “recovery in isolation is impossible.” Gates named several groups that are available to help: Medicine Wheel, Red Road to Wellbriety, Never Alone Recovery Hall and the Center for Prevention and Wellness. Choosing alternative drug-free pain management techniques such as cranial sacral massage, meditation, acupuncture, exercise, and yoga are other options that could keep a person from ever using opioids in the first place.

Gates explained there are medications available to assist recovery but are sometimes not given because of the stigma associated with drug use. There are those who believe punishment remains the answer to the drug problem. “(But) We are not going to arrest our way out of this,” Ross added.

Statistics prove that opioid misuse is a problem for the entire population, and not relegated to any single group. The enormity of the problem, Gates continued, may even be causing compassion burnout among healthcare workers. An individual struggling with drug use once told her, “We just want to be treated like people.” 

It’s important, Ross maintains, to recognize everyone’s humanity, even in the throes of drug addiction and misuse.

Parents are cautioned that the family medicine cabinet provides a drug opportunity for curious, experimenting teenagers. At least 90% of substance use disorders begin at this age. Gates recommends Safe Rx Locking Pill Bottles that safely store medication that can only be opened with a code. Using these bottles can eliminate pill theft, accidental poisoning and especially pediatric poisoning. 

Flushing unused medications down the sink or toilet affects water quality. According to the Bison Resiliency Coalition at SKC, prescription drug residue remains in water following water treatment. Rather than throwing leftover medications/drugs down the sink or toilet, Gates recommends using Deterra Drug Deactivation System to deactivate medications. Contact SKC’s CHD Department for availability information or go to:

As a health educator, Gates promotes a gentler, fact-telling, logical approach to drug education. This style of education she said, appears to work better than the scare tactics of previous generations. What works best when addressing the dangers of illicit drug use are scientifically accurate facts. Honestly addressing the reality of teenage drug use, as well as the different types of drug use, also works well. While these approaches recognize abstinence as the best choice, they acknowledge that abstinence may not always be the choice that is made. Education that provides strategies to stay as safe as possible, not only increases knowledge about drug misuse but also provides harm reduction techniques. Reducing judgement and condemnation by meeting people “where they are” is a more useful and humane approach.


Sponsored by: