Public Health and Police Team Up to Reduce Montana Overdoses


  • The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services needs data from those first on the scene—law enforcement officers—to reduce harm from opioid overdoses.
  • Montana public health practitioners built a collaborative relationship with law enforcement.
  • Near real-time emergency department data on opioid overdose and law enforcement experience became a two-way exchange.
Woman in white shirt sitting at desk looks at a video conference call on one monitor and a spreadsheet on another monitor.

Public health problem

Both the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) and state law enforcement officers were working to reduce the use of opioids in communities, but they used different approaches to solve the problem and often didn't share data with one another. Police officers, sheriffs, and others in law enforcement are usually first on the scene at an overdose and can corroborate information that informs efforts to reduce the harms associated with opioid overdose. An alliance between public health and law enforcement has considerable potential to improve the lives of people affected by opioid overdose. Consequently, Montana public health practitioners looked for opportunities to collaborate.

Actions taken

Collaboration hinges on mutual understanding of goals and support needed to achieve those goals. Public health practitioners in Montana took the initial steps of reaching out to law enforcement to meet and discuss the mutual exchange of information and potential benefits. Montana DPHHS gained an Opioid Response Strategy (ORS) team that paired a drug intelligence officer with public health analysts.

Since Montana public health practitioners were already creating maps that used emergency medical service (EMS) data to identify areas of concern for opioid overdose, they asked law enforcement to contribute data via the Overdose Mapping and Application Program (ODMAP). The ORS team was able to get a foot in the door and show law enforcement how data could be used to visualize and support their work. Almost immediately, law enforcement recognized the value of using maps to plot their data, and a working relationship began.


Building a collaborative relationship takes much effort. This worthwhile venture unified public health, health care services, and law enforcement in the fight against opioids—ultimately benefiting communities. The long-term value of finding a champion who can convey the importance of public health ideas and concepts to hard-to-reach groups cannot be overstated.

By linking law enforcement data with state-held EMS data via ODMAP, the public health department gained a more complete picture of overdoses occurring across the state in near real-time. Now, when state epidemiologists identify a spike in overdoses, they work with the ORS team and law enforcement to verify what they are seeing in the area and advise local harm reduction groups and EMS to prepare for an increased need for their services.


Victoria Troeger
Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services
Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Office of Public Health Data, Surveillance, and Technology
Detect and Monitor Division

The findings and outcomes described in this syndromic success story are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the National Syndromic Surveillance Program or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.