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To Professionals, Pooling Resources Is The Best Solution for Opioid Epidemic

There might not be a single solution to the current opioid epidemic. Instead, representatives from across the state are talking about combining their efforts to try to lower the rate of opioid addiction and overdose, particularly in rural communities.

Health officials, law enforcement, elected representatives, treatment providers and members of other agencies affected by the opioid epidemic gathered Wednesday morning at the Parkade Center in Columbia for a roundtable discussion hosted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The meeting was a way to open the doors of communication among the people who are fighting to put an end to opioid misuse and abuse.

“There is a tremendous amount of resources available across the state,” Director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources Carol Comer said. “We just needed to bring everybody together to talk about it.”

Drug overdose has been a leading cause of death in the U.S. since 2010 and has replaced car accidents as the number one cause of accidental death, according to information presented by Shawn Griggs, public information, education and training officer for Missouri State Highway Patrol’s Division of Drug and Crime Control. From July 2016 to September 2017, there was a 70 percent increase in opioid-related overdoses in the Midwest, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“No corner of the country is untouched by this,” said Anne Hazlett, Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development.

The opioid epidemic affects one in three families in Missouri. According to the CDC, 89,000 opioid prescriptions are written for every 100,000 Missouri citizens. Missouri is also the only state without a statewide prescription drug-monitoring program, which makes the issue difficult to manage.

“It’s our top priority, and it will probably remain that way for years to come,” said Dean Linneman, director of the Division of Regulation and Licensure within the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

Rural areas of the state are a particular issue because they are often overlooked. According to Linneman, much of the drug traffic comes from the state’s bigger cities but makes its way into rural areas where resources aren’t as readily available.

It’s then the job of the rural communities to clean up the mess, he said.

In 2016, the Missouri State Highway Patrol seized 41,474 grams of heroin, in comparison to 156 grams in 2011, according to data by the Missouri Department of Public Safety.

“We’re not going to arrest our way out of this problem. We’re just not,” Griggs said.

Many of the representatives present in the discussion shared ideas related to prevention, education and treatment for opioid misuse, including four bills currently in session in the Missouri legislature and grants like the MO-HOPE project.

The MO-HOPE project is a statewide effort to train individuals on the benefits of naloxone, a drug used to counteract the effects of an overdose. The project’s goal is to provide training and the medicine to first responders.

“This is about a $40 item,” Linneman said of the naloxone. “It’ll save your life.”

Other programs, such as community recovery centers with peer support, were brought up as efforts that have had positive results thus far.

However, Executive Director of the Missouri Recovery Network Brenda Schell said that a lot of money is being put into prevention, but not a lot is being done about treatment.

“Treatment is a revolving door,” Schell said. “Treatment is also an intervention, but recovery is a way of life. We need to do better collaboratively as a state.”