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Central Missouri offers a glimmer of hope amid growing drug overdose numbers


A new report from the University of Missouri-St. Louis shows that Mid-Missouri saw a decrease in its rate of drug overdose deaths between 2021-2022. 

Drug overdoses continue to be an issue across the country, with the CDC reporting that more than 900,000 lives have been lost to overdoses since 1999, with the yearly averages continuing to trend in the wrong direction. 

Missouri is no exception. 

In the past year, 2,178 people died of a drug overdose in Missouri. The number is an increase of 2.3% from the 2021 numbers, according to data from the UMSL-MIMH Addiction Science Team. 

“This is a federal health emergency as declared by the federal government,” Heather Harlan, of the Columbia/Boone County Health & Human Services Department, said . “I think it’s been difficult for many reasons for us to get our arms wrapped around it and reverse this trend. Part of the reason was the pandemic contributed to the spike in the numbers.”

For the second year in a row, fentanyl was the biggest killer, involved in 67% of all overdose deaths in 2022. 

"Part of the reason it's still rising is that fentanyl is very cheap. It's very easy to make, and ship than other drugs. There is also a lot of ignorance in our community, a lack of education, awareness, and understanding," Harlan explained. "Fentanyl is showing up in Boone County in all illegal drugs, in all street drugs."

The proportion of overdose deaths involving stimulants alone and stimulants in combination with opioids has also continued to increase since 2019. 

“Now that it’s taking different forms and easier to access we are seeing people use that fentanyl to increase their high,” Lt. Clint Frazier, of the Columbia Police Department, said.

“You just don’t know what you are getting. Even if it is the same stuff you have been getting for weeks and months and years the next time it might not be”, Frazier said. 

While the number of overdoses is on the rise the number of people seeking treatment is declining. 

Valley Hope Treatment and Recovery admissions manager Dan Bridges says that stigmas play a role in preventing people from wanting to seek help. 

“You don’t necessarily want to empathize with somebody,” Bridges said. “They [the public] think that this is a choice, and one could make the argument that it might start off as a choice but it doesn’t continue as a choice. Nobody chooses to live a life in that type of misery and that type of emotional pain. It is not a lifestyle that the people that are suffering want to continue. They want help. They need that loving caring support.” 

“One of the most common things is trauma,” Bridges says. It could be an underlying mental health issue as well. And then what happens is those individuals are seeking relief from that. And for a small period of time, that substance of choice will work.”  

That is when the trouble starts.

“Honestly when people get onto or have an opioid addiction they want something stronger and stronger and stronger,” Sinclair explained. “That’s typical with any type of drug. Even drinking alcohol. You have a little bit and then you need more and more and more to feel the same effects.”

In Mid-Missouri, opioid-involved deaths decreased. However, stimulant-involved deaths and opioid-and-stimulant-involved deaths increased while fentanyl deaths remained similar to the 2021 numbers.  

While the overall Missouri numbers look grim, Mid-Missouri does offer some hope. According to the report, the Central Region had an 8% decrease in overdose deaths, which was the greatest proportional decrease of any region. 

Meanwhile, the Kansas City metro region had the greatest proportional increase (22%) in total overdose deaths from 2021-22.

Mid-Missouri also saw decreases in overdoses. Male overdoses dropped by 5.6%. Female overdoses dropped by 12.3% while overdoses among white residents fell by 10.6%, which was the second-largest decrease of any region in the state. Mid-Missouri was one of just two regions that saw a decrease in female overdoses at 12.3%. Only the Northwest Region had a larger decrease at 40%. 

However, overdose totals rose for Black residents, which is part of a larger trend across the state. The overdose death rate of Black Missourians is more than 2.5 times higher than that of white Missourians in 2022. 

This year the Columbia Police Department reported 54 overdoses between Jan. 1 and June 29. Eleven of those were fatal. Columbia Police say that they saw the highest totals from January to March. Based on the year-to-date numbers they expect a roughly 13% decrease in overdoses. 

In 2021 Columbia had 168 reported overdoses and 33 fatal overdoses. In 2022 that number fell to 163 overdoses and 29 fatal overdoses.

Lt. Clint Sinclair has been serving on the Columbia Police Department for 13 years. During that time, he has responded to his fair share of overdose calls. 

“One of the things that my division does is investigate the fatal overdoses and I can say year to date compared to 2022 we are down in the number of fatal overdoses that we’ve seen.” 

When asked what Columbia has been doing to help reduce these numbers Sinclair credited the availability of naloxone, resources in the area, and officer training. 

“We have been carrying Narcan for quite some time and training officers on how to use that. We have gotten good training on recognizing opioid overdoses in particular and providing resources,” Sinclair said. “I think we’re very good about the helping aspect of it and not the enforcement aspect of it. We go to these overdose calls, we provide them with the resources we can, and we provide them with medical attention.

“A lot of these overdose calls where there is no death, there’s no criminal investigation whatsoever. We’re not out looking to arrest people unless it becomes something more serious than a simple overdose.” 

Article Topic Follows: Health

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Mitchell Kaminski

Mitchell Kaminski is from Wheaton, Illinois. He earned a degree in sports communication and journalism from Bradley University. He has done radio play-by-play and co-hosts a Chicago White Sox podcast.


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