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Opioid overdose deaths in Missouri up more than 30 percent in 2020


The number of opioid overdoses and deaths in Missouri increased in 2020 compared to 2019.

Data from "NoMoDeaths," a state collaborative project to help combat the opioid crisis, shows the first three quarters of 2020 saw a nearly 31% increase in opioid-involved overdose deaths. In 2019, Missouri recorded 788 deaths; in 2020 the number of people who died jumped to 1,034.

Greg Smith, executive director of Missouri Coalition of Recovery Support Providers, said he believes several factors influenced the numbers in 2020.

"Drug use goes hand in hand with other mental health issues," Smith said. "During the pandemic, you see people in isolation, you saw a lot of anxiety, depression, people losing jobs, unemployment, financial issues. All that stuff kind of leads to issues with drug addiction."

While the number of opioid deaths increased in 2020 compared to 2019, so did the number of times first responders used the life-saving drug Narcan.

Narcan use was up in 2020 across several Mid-Missouri agencies, according to data ABC 17 News obtained through records requests. Columbia police used Narcan 19 times in 2019; in 2020 patrol officers used it 48 times.

Columbia Police Department Sgt. Dallas Dollens said the increased use of Narcan could have several contributing factors. Dollens said officers are better trained to recognize someone who might need it.

"Oftentimes we're first on scene and at a time where seconds matter, this is just another tool that we can have to help someone," Dollens said.

Dollens said more people were also using substances to cope during the pandemic. In 2019, the Columbia Police Department received 193 overdose calls. In 2020, that number saw a nearly 35% increase, rising to 262 calls for help.

Smith said housing and treatment resources for those who need help continue to be a struggle. The Missouri Coalition of Recovery Support Providers helps gives accreditation to recovery homes in Missouri. So far, there are 132 accredited homes in Missouri. Smith said there is still a need for more across the state.

"There's always more that needs to be done. There's so many people each year that need treatment that can't get in the treatment. We need it on the treatment front and on the back end with recovery programs," he said.

In 2022, Smith hopes to increase the amount of recovery homes in Missouri to 200 with 2,000 beds available. Right now, there are 132 accredited homes and 1,250 beds available.

Help can be hard to find

Cyndi Tandy, a Jefferson City Mom, lost her son in March of 2019 due to a heroin overdose. Tandy said her son had trouble finding a place to get help.

"He did come to me about three weeks before he passed and asked me for help. I told him to call around and find out but he couldn't get in any place," Tandy said. "In the meantime, unfortunately, he died."

In August, the Missouri Department of Mental Health was awarded more than $25 million for the State Opioid Response grant. The money awarded covers the period of Sept. 30, 2020, until Sept. 29, 2021. The state expects to receive additional funding beginning Sept. 30, 2021.

The money supports opioid use disorder prevention, treatment and recovery services. The money also goes toward expanding the focus on vulnerable populations, stimulant use disorder, telehealth services and peer specialists.

Debra Walker with the Missouri Department of Mental Health said "the pandemic created many challenges but the fight against the opioid crisis continues."

Walker outlined several of the state's initiatives to combat the opioid crisis. Some of those include:

  • A "medication-first treatment approach," which is based on the "housing first" approach to chronic homelessness.
  • Increase access and outreach to hard-hit communities such as the St. Louis region, including the African American population through community-based, street-level and church outreach initiatives.
  • Virtual training and technical assistance on pain management and opioid use disorder, including an app for pregnant and postpartum women.
  • Substance use disorder treatment agencies provide treatment services through the medication-first core principles.
  • The demand for naloxone (Narcan) remains high. Missouri continues to prioritize high-risk populations, including individuals recently released from jail, individuals actively using drugs and their loved ones.
  • Increased outreach efforts by promotion harm reduction practices, creative naloxone distribution, increased mail-order distribution.

Smith said the $25 million will be a huge help but "it takes time to ramp up services. You can't just open up a new program overnight."

Tandy said in the meantime "get help because you're worth more than that. You're worth more than that and there is help."

Tandy is a member of a support group, Families Anonymous, for people with loved ones who struggle with addiction. The group meets Tuesday's at 5:30 p.m. At Living Hope Church in Jefferson City.

ABC 17 News called several recovery houses around Mid-Missouri. Here's a map of some around that have available beds or are currently on a wait list.

The state has a list of different resources available for those needing help.

Article Topic Follows: ABC 17 News Investigates

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Deborah Kendrick

Deborah is a weekday evening anchor and investigative reporter for ABC 17 News.


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