As communities across Missouri seek solutions to the opioid epidemic, a recent wave of events and change in policy is encouraging buy-in and analyzing the depth of the issue.
A summit in Springfield on July 20 served as the first of nine locations throughout the state that brought together state and local officials to discuss opioid abuse, and highlighted what local entities are doing to address the issue.
“We are five percent of world’s population and we consume 95 percent of world’s hydrocodone,” James P. Shroba with the St Louis Division of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency told the crowd. “We have an insatiable appetite for it and that is the springboard for our heroin and fentanyl crisis.”
Mayor Ken McClure acknowledged the issue impacts public safety and job creation.
“It ties into economic develop, it ties into poverty, it ties into homelessness- all of this is so important that we address.”
The Centers for Disease Control says that more than half of all overdose deaths in the U.S. involve a prescription or illicit opioid.
Solutions include Generation RX, a program to inform and reach school children at an early age about the dangers of prescription drugs. And the recent addition of monitoring programs aims to reduce the amount of product drug abusers can receive.
The Springfield Opioid Summit occurred just days after Gov. Eric Greitens signed of an executive order established a statewide prescription drug monitoring program, or PDMP. The following week, both the city of Springfield and Greene County passed their own prescription tracking policies.
The governor also recently signed a bill giving the director of the Department of Health and Senior Services the ability to issue life-saving medications, such as Naloxone. Also know by the brand name Narcan, it can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
At the Springfield summit, Dr. Ted Cicero of Washington University in St. Louis said, “Narcan and naloxone…actually knocks the drug off its receptors in the brain and by so doing, you can actually rescue someone from respiratory arrest which is why first responders in many parts of the country are now carrying an ample amount of Narcan.”
Dr. Tom Lewis noted Mercy hospital has increased its staff in the emergency department for dependence evaluations, and a larger inventory of Narcan is now available for EMS personnel.
Springfield EMS data show that in 2016 Narcan rescues totaled 13. As of mid-July, there have been 285 such cases in 2017.
Officials said Missouri has secured a $5.5 million federal grant toward the purchase of Narcan. Various local health care organizations also shared with the audience efforts to combat the issue.
Mercy and Cox have partnered with Burrell Behavioral Health to refer anywhere from 60-85 people per month to Burrell’s addiction program, Social Setting Detox, available for persons ages 12 and up. This is considered a medically- assisted ‘pre-treatment’ step before putting patients into a long-term treatment program.
Cox Health has expanded its collaboration with Stone and Taney counties. Using a Skaggs Foundation Grant, Cox instituted substance abuse initiatives derived from concerns voiced at a local stakeholder’s summit. Local schools, health departments and law enforcement came together to assess the pressing issues facing their communities, and hammered out treatments and prevention strategies.
At Jordan Valley Community Health Center, Dr. Barbara Wachtel-Nash explained how the center is following a medication first model of treatment. She said it leads to a stabilized, psychosocial intervention. Its biggest focus is addiction prevention in the pediatric population by assisting new or expecting mothers.
Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams told summit spectators that the department responded to 99 heroin overdoses in 2015, 87 overdoses in 2016 and 94 so far this year. He added that officers have now access to Narcan. To illustrate the scope of the issue in Greene County, he disclosed that in 2015 less than one pound of heroin was seized. Last year, it was even pounds.
Greene County Treatment Court Commissioner Peggy Davis said she didn’t believe Springfield could prosecute its way out of the opioid and prescription drug problem. She also cited that one out of eight students in the county have admitted to abusing prescription drugs. 38 percent say they are “easy to get” and just 14 percent “see no risk” involved in their use, according to Davis.
Watch the Missouri Opioid Crisis Summit: Springfield Kickoff here.