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Battling the Opioid Crisis: Raising an Army

According to the Centers for Disease Control, opioids, both illicit and prescription, are the main drivers of drug overdose deaths.

In Missouri, lawmakers, doctors and authorities are all pushing for something to be done about the growing epidemic.

ABC 17 News spoke to several experts in the industry in Mid-Missouri about what’s being done to stop it, as well as if there’s any light at the end of the tunnel in the push to stop it.

For the last year and a half, ABC 17 News has been following the opioid crisis in Missouri.

Last February, we talked to emergency room doctors and lawmakers about what they’re doing to combat the crisis.

We talked to them again and a lot has changed, but not for the better.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol said they saw a significant increase in the number of prescription pills taken off Missouri streets from 2015 to 2016. The number was very alarming and shows just how big of an issue it is at home.

“In 2016, sixteen-thousand prescription pills were seized. It was a fairly significant increase than the year before that. For the last several years it’s been in the nine thousand range,” Said Captain John Hotz with the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

Emergency room doctors in Mid-Missouri said it’s seen an increase in opioid use, as well.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a quick fix that’s going to solve this problem. It’s probably going to get worse before it gets better,” said Doctor Christopher Sampson with University hospital.

Dr. Sampson also made the point that people go to the doctor with the expectations that they’re going to get a prescription because they paid for the doctors visit.

Since the beginning of the year, Addiction Specialist, Heather Harlan, said twenty-three percent of the calls she’s had from people needing addiction help this year are for opioid use.

Harlan said, “Most of us don’t change because we see the light, but because we feel the heat.”

Something that hasn’t changed is the fact that Missouri still does not have a prescription drug monitoring program, otherwise known as a PDMP.

“In Missouri we have fillibuster and we have a senator who has filibuster or threatened to filibuster every year… We have a senator who has filibustered every year or threatened to filibuster,” said Representative Holly Rehder. ” I’m hopeful within a year we could have it statewide, um but it would be run by the counties.”

ABC 17 News asked the representative if she was insinuating that she meant Senator Rob Schaaf would be out of the picture because of term-limits.

Rehder responded, “I meant within a year I think all the counties will have passed a PDMP locally, and the need for one statewide wouldn’t be there.”

ABC 17 News asked if it was possible for only one senator, that senator being Rob Schaaf, could prevent something so important from happening.

“It is, unfortunately, it is. It denies Missourian’s their voice,” said Rehder.

ABC 17 New tried to get in touch with Senator Schaaf on multiple occasions, only to be told he wasn’t taking interviews regarding the matter anymore.

Rehder also said she grew up in addiction, her daughter became addicted, her cousin died over an opioid overdose and her grandson was born addicted to opiates.

Harlan said addiction specialists predicted this would happen nearly ten years ago.

One thing that was agreed on between everyone ABC 17 News interviewed was that there is an obvious problem and there is recognition of it, which is a step in the right direction.

“I think what will be done is we will, um, get a handle on it like we did in the past and we will bring the numbers down,” said Harlan.

Doctor Sampson had a different take on the issue.

“I don’t know what the solution is. I think it’s a very complicated, um problem. We definitely have better knowledge of it in the past one to two years from a side of both our governments and our physicians and recognize this is a national epidemic.”

Rehder said, “Overwhelmingly the house and the senate has agreed that a PDMP is a necessary bill to pass. You now, overwhelmingly across the United States when you have all but one state that has passed this they are saying it is a necessary tool in the toolbox.”

The Missouri legislature ended two weeks ago and obviously did not pass a PDMP.

The next time Missouri lawmakers will be able to bring it back up for discussion will be January of 2018.

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