From prescription to addiction: the spread of opioid misuse in Missouri

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JEFFERSON CITY - In 2016, 30% of Missourians who sought treatment came in with an opioid use disorder, which is more than 10 thousand people. Opioid misuse is second only to alcohol in the state.

Nora Bock, Missouri Department of Mental Health’s Director of Adult Treatment, said, “It’s creeping and it’s definitely moving across the state.”

The drug story in Missouri has long been methamphetamines. But, while meth was primarily a rural, low-income drug, heroin does not discriminate.

Bock said, “Heroin is any class. It’s your captain of the football team or the homecoming queen. That’s what’s sort of spurred the attention that it’s crossing socioeconomic lines.”

In many cases, it starts with prescription pain killers.

Bock said, “What we’re seeing is kids start with the prescription meds at home because the dentist gave it to them or for an injury or they find it in mom and dad’s cabinet and makes them feel really good. When they run out of that supply or it becomes too expensive, Heroin gives you a much more intense high and it’s cheaper.”

From 1999-2010, the Department of Mental Health says the rise in the sale of opioids set off a chain reaction. As the sale of opioids rose, so did the number of treatments and overdose deaths.

During this month’s Super Bowl, the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse put out two public service announcements about the opioid crisis in the St. Louis Area. The spots compare the number of deaths by overdoses to the number of deaths by gunfire or texting while driving.

The Department of Mental Health says the largest concentration of heroin cases in the state is in the St. Louis area. 33% of St. Louis County residents who were admitted into a treatment program presented a heroin problem. In comparison, Boone, Callaway and Cole Counties’ numbers aren’t as dramatic, but state and local health departments recognize it’s spreading.

Steve Hollis, Human Services Manager at the Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services, said, “What we’re trying to do now is prevent it from becoming an epidemic here. We’re working a lot on prevention and we work to build strong, resilient young folk who won’t struggle with addiction.”

Hollis said if someone in the area needs help, the local health department contracts out one-hour counseling sessions for low-income and uninsured residents.

“We have about 125 thousand dollars a year we invest in behavioral health service contracts,” said Hollis.

The Department of Mental Health budgets about 132-million dollars each year for treatment of substance use and compulsive gambling. Missouri will also receive a federal grant from the 21st Century Cures Act -- 10.1 million dollars each year for two years, specifically to combat opioid misuse.

Bock said, “This is the most attention I’ve seen at the federal level for the opioid crisis. We’re grateful we will have additional resources. It’s not folks who live across the tracks, it’s you and me. It does not discriminate.”