© 2024 University of Missouri - KBIA
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
KBIA’s latest project focuses on reducing opioid overdose deaths in Columbia and its surrounding areas. The project provides information to learn more about substance use disorders, opioid overdose deaths, recovery and tools to reverse opioid overdoses. KBIA’s mission includes communicating information and engaging with all members of our community as a public service.KBIA will continue to cover this ongoing community issue. If you have a story you would like to share, contact news@kbia.org.

Boone County Overdose Response Coalition hosts town hall, resource fair

Harshawn Ratanpal

The Boone County Overdose Response Coalition hosted a community discussion Tuesday night at Hickman High School to address an increase in drug overdose-related deaths in Boone County.

According to the Boone County medical examiner’s office, the county saw 41 drug overdose-related deaths in 2023, a notable decrease from 65 deaths in 2022, but still higher than the 39 overdose deaths in 2020.

The medical examiner’s office noted that it expects the number of overdose deaths in the county to keep climbing.

The event, which was co-sponsored by Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services, featured booths from 13 local vendors and a panel of community leaders.

“I often think of it as concentric circles. Substance use disorders are chronic health issues. If you don’t manage it, it will manage you.”
Heather Harlan

Representatives from the Columbia Police Department, the Fire Department, University of Missouri Health Care and several community recovery and reentry organizations talked about the programs they currently provide to those with substance use disorders.

Panelists and community members emphasized racial disparities in substance use disorder resources between Black communities and non-Black communities in Columbia.

The UMSL Addiction Science Team reported the overdose death rate of Black Missourians in 2022 was more than 2.5 times higher than that of white Missourians.

D’Markus Thomas-Brown, a reentry advocate and regional director of the Good Dads non-profit for supporting fathers, advocated for an approach that focuses on the specific needs of Columbia’s Black neighborhoods.

“If there’s not a trauma-informed lens of how we deal with this, we will be kidding ourselves in thinking we’re going to deal with it,” Thomas-Brown said. “We’re not educating people in our communities to understand that there is a variable here that is different.”

Rev. Charles Stephenson, the Executive Director of Powerhouse Community Development, said his team with Unity in the Community coalition works directly within neighborhoods to bolster their existing resources and build connections with residents in need.

“You can work with kids at school, we can take them to the YMCA, but at the end of the day, they have to go back home to those neighborhoods,” Stephenson said. “If we don’t bring real change into those neighborhoods, we’ll never see real change.”

The coalition also hosted an optional training session on the use of naloxone, a nasal spray that reverses overdoses for opiate drugs. It is often referred to by its brand name — Narcan.

Coalition volunteers offered all attendees free naloxone in collaboration with the health department, which offers free naloxone during business hours.

“One thing we strive to ensure … is that all of our staff and consumers receive information education on overdose risks, harm reduction strategies, as well as access to life-saving medication such as naloxone,” Shannon Crowley-Einspahr of Compass Health Network said.

The Columbia chief of police and the Columbia and Boone County fire chiefs told the attendees that all first responders under their jurisdiction carry naloxone to intervene during emergency responses.

Fire Chief Clayton Farr Jr. said that all Columbia firefighters also undergo education programs about substance use disorder and give kits to families of individuals with a substance use disorder with information about how to administer them in case of emergency.

“As a community, we have to cultivate a culture of compassion and understanding,” attendee Bre Kratzer said during open discussion. “We need to come together as a community to break down the stigma surrounding substance use disorders and offer hope and help to those who are in need.”

Heather Harlan said Columbia/Boone County Public Health & Human Services has more than tripled the amount of naloxone it has received from the Missouri Institute of Mental Health to distribute to the public.

Harlan, a health program coordinator at the health department, said her work in the coalition aims to address the many areas of life that substance use disorders affect.

“I often think of it as concentric circles,” Harlan said. “Substance use disorders are chronic health issues. If you don’t manage it, it will manage you.”

Columbia and Boone County residents seeking naloxone can get it free of charge at the Columbia/Boone County Public Health & Human Services from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Worley Street office.

The Reentry Opportunity Center, Behavioral Health Group and Compass Health Network also offer free naloxone to the public.

For the audio transcript, click here.

Katie Grawitch is a second-year journalism student working across the Missouri School of Journalism's newsrooms.
Ceilidh Kern is a health and higher education reporter for the Columbia Missourian and a contributor to KBIA.
Related Content