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Panelists weigh in on opioid crisis in town hall

ABC 17 News and 93.9 The Eagle held a town hall Thursday evening with four panelists talking about the opioid crisis in mid-Missouri, and the country.

One thing nearly all four panelists talked about was the availably of pills.

“We need to be cognizant of the fact it’s in our communities now and it will continue to grow if we don’t start having more help available,” said Rep. Holly Rehder – R, District 148.

Rehder has been pushing for a statewide prescription drug-monitoring program during her time in the state legislature. She has openly shared her personal and family experiences with addiction.

“I grew up around addiction,” Rehder said. “One of my stepfathers was a dealer.” Rehder said her daughter didn’t grow up in that environment and but still became addicted to pills at 17 after an injury at work.

Recovering addict Eddie Bunnell also sat on the panel. He’s been clean for four years and said he became addicted to opioids at 15-years-old after stealing them from his father.

“I used to go to every emergency room in Columbia and tell them I had a toothache,” Bunnel said. “I’d walk out with a prescription for pain medicine.”

Bunnell said he went to rehab eight times. The only way he was able to get clean was after going to jail.

“You have to be ready to get clean,” Bunnell said.

Dr. Blake Brooks also sat on the panel. He lost his son to an overdose just four days after his son’s first rehab stint. Brooks said more education could be a solution.

“The D.A.R.E. program doesn’t necessarily hit kids when they need it,” Brooks said. More education throughout a child’s formative years would be better, in Brooks’ opinion.

Brooks also believes many kids get involved with drugs to fill a void and feel a part of something.

“I think once we can address it on a heart level for a lot of these kids, particularly at a young age, I think that will make a big impact.”

Troy Derby has been a DEA agent for 26 years and spoke about the law enforcement side of this crisis.

Recently, Derby and his team busted a drug-trafficking ring bringing pounds of fentanyl into the Kansas City area. Fentanyl is about 100 times more potent than heroin and is often mixed with other things.

“With street drugs, you never know what you’re getting,” Derby said. “It wasn’t prepared by a pharmacist and you really don’t know what it could be cut with.”

Derby also said this isn’t something that affects just one group of people. Nearly all the panelists agreed drugs are in every social and economic group in the country.

“This does not discriminate between demographics,” Brooks said. “The availability is there no matter what your demographic is.”

One outcome the panelists were hoping for after this town hall was to lessen the stigma associated with addiction.

Rehder used the example of judging a smoker for getting lung cancer, even though there’s a warning label. Brooks agreed.

“We need to start treating addicts the way we do other people who are sick,” Brooks said. “Accept they make mistakes and help them continue to recover.”

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