Missouri opioid epidemic

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JEFFERSON CITY - Sen. Roy Blunt announced Wednesday that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration will award a $10 million opioid crisis grant to the state of Missouri. The senator says the epidemic is destroying families everywhere and Missouri is no exception.

“In 2015, more than 1,000 Missourians died from a lethal drug overdose,” Blunt said.

According to the statement from Blunt’s office, said the number has more than tripled since 1999.

“Addiction is treatable,” Blunt said. “But, only around 10 percent of those struggling with the disease get the help they need.”

Blunt said the new grant will help.

“This grant will expand access to treatment, recovery, and prevention programs and strengthen our state’s ability to combat this growing epidemic,” he said.

Heather Harlan, prevention specialist at Phoenix Health Programs, said that nationally, opioid addiction is a growing problem.

“The opioid issue is catching our attention because it’s unusual,” she said. “This is a chronic health issue. It’s a brain disorder.”

Blunt’s press release cites a separate report that says there has been a 538 percent increase in the number of babies born addicted to opioids in the past ten years.

“We now know that we lose more people per year to overdoses than we do to car crashes,” Harlan said.

She said 95 percent of addictions begin during adolescence so “we know exactly what population to focus on.”

The director of the Missouri Department of Mental Health, Mark Stringer, said, when distributing funds from the grant, some areas should be targeted more than others.

Stringer said, “it’s worse in St. Louis and in the eastern part of the state.”

He said there are people right now waiting for treatment that's not available.

"Every one of those is a potential tragedy,” he said.

Stringer said the grant will primarily focus on expanding treatment and it will also be funding physician training, prevention activities in schools and recovery resources.

“It will expand some resources that we don’t have enough of right now,” he said.