Experts gather in KC to brainstorm ways to fight opioid abuse as overdoses & deaths hit historic highs

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- More than 900 people died from opioid drug overdoses in Missouri last year.

The nationwide spike in deaths from these kinds of drugs recently prompted President Trump to declare opioid abuse a national health emergency. That’s why experts from around the region are coming together, looking for ways to reverse the tragic trend.

Those who gathered Thursday for the Kansas City Regional Opioid Summit said it's a real problem in the state. In fact, just in the past two years, there’s been a 643-percent increase in overdoses in the state. Two people overdosed just last week from carfentanil in the Kansas City’s Northland area.

Lou Steele is proud of the young woman his daughter Elizabeth is today. But for years, her future was uncertain.

“We thought we must have failed as parents because we have a daughter addicted to drugs,” he said.

Steele said just a few semesters into college, Elizabeth was hooked on heroin. It got so bad, she flunked out of school, started stealing from her family and wouldn’t get help.

“The ultimate fear is the fear that today is the day she will die,” Steele said.

Eventually, Elizabeth did get help. Today, she’s a clinical director for a drug rehab center in California. Lou shared his story at the Kansas City Regional Opioid Summit and hopes the summit helps spur big changes to fight addiction.

“Unless we do something dramatic, in my opinion, we’re not going to get ahead of this,” Steele said.

One bright spot is the rolling out of Missouri’s prescription drug monitoring program. Experts said it’s a step in the right direction, but that physicians need much better education on pain management and addiction to curb the over-prescribing of pain pills that often lead to addiction.

“Medical education does need to start thinking about those things that are important to patients and carry that through from the medical schools and into residencies and then out into practice,” Darren D’Agostino with Kansas City University said.

The toll to families and communities is real and troubling.

Opioid overdoses and deaths have hit historic highs around the country. That addiction costs all of us more than $100 billion every year from hospitalizations to incarceration and lost productivity, on top of the heavy emotional toll.

“We do have a problem and a crisis with those that have a problem, so we need to help fix that,” said D’Agostino.

The summit is just the start of conversations to find new ways to tackle prevention and treatment of this health emergency, with the ultimate goal of saving lives.

There are two new websites dedicated to the opioid crisis, including educational resources that are free to the public. Those sites are GenerationRX.org and opioids.mo.gov.