Pill 'epidemic' strikes reservations in Montana

The Indian Health Service is being accused of over-prescribing painkillers, antidepressants and other drugs to patients on reservations in Montana.

Louis Gobert, 31, was prescribed methadone for chronic migraines. He became addicted and, after three overdoses, he died last September.

"He was gobbling them like candy," his grandmother Connie Bremner told The Great Falls Tribune.

Angeline Wall, a quality assurance coordinator at a drug and alcohol treatment center on the Blackfeet Reservation, says the IHS contributes to prescription drug problems. "You talk to people and they say they just gave me these painkillers to take until I can get this surgery done," she told the paper.

"And then you come to the hospital and the first thing they ask them is 'Do you need more pain pills?' It isn't like ... 'Should we be cutting down on your pain pills?' It's like, 'Do you need any more?'" she added.

Norma Lee Dumont, 65, was beaten to death on the Blackfeet Reservation last year. The thieves were trying to steal her prescription medication.

"As far as the pill epidemic, it's really evident," Blackfeet council member Rodney "Fish" Gervais said. "People are dying." His son became addicted to painkillers and died three years ago at the age of 24. "He had gone to a pill house just prior to his death," Gervais told the paper.

Statistics on the problem are hard to come by. But the IHS denies that it is overmedicating. And at least one former IHS doctor said tribal politics plays a role in the health care system.

"There's a huge amount of pressure from the community on the physicians to prescribe this stuff," said Bill Walston, who worked at an IHS clinic on the Fort Belknap Reservation. "Especially if they're people that are family members of council members. There's a lot of political pressure. I encountered it myself."

Get the Story:
Pills and pain: Long waits for care, overprescribing of medicine blamed for crisis that's scarring Indian Country (The Great Falls Tribune 7/22)
Nationwide probe reveals problems with IHS pharmacies (The Great Falls Tribune 7/22)
'Doctor shoppers' bringing pills into Rocky Boy, Havre (The Great Falls Tribune 7/22)
Database touted to track prescriptions, flag addictions (The Great Falls Tribune 7/22)
Fort Peck 'pill seekers' go extra mile to feed addictions (The Great Falls Tribune 7/23)

Relevant Links:
Indian Health Service - http://www.ihs.gov