Metro substance abuse counselors say President’s emergency declaration for opioids provides hope

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OLATHE, Kan. -- Substance abuse counselors say it's the news they've hoped for.

On Thursday, President Donald Trump pledged to confront the opioid epidemic, calling it a national crisis. The President told a gathering in New Jersey he wants more drug-related arrests, while promising more money for treatment programs.

In the Kansas City metro, treatment providers, like those who work at the Johnson County Department of Health, say the problem is growing. Health officials at that agency say 80 percent of the world's opioid supply is used by Americans, and it's often leading to overdoses. That's why President Trump's decision to offer help, and to get tougher, sounds promising to them.

"We're not just playing it off as making poor choices. It is a disease," Kevin Kufeldt, program manager at the Adolescent Center for Health in Olathe, told FOX 4 News.

Kufeldt says it's his life's calling, helping drug-addled teenagers confront their drug addictions. He says each year, as many as 250 teens coming to his crisis center seeking help. Some of them are as young as 12 years old.

"We're seeing a spike in overdoses nationwide," Kufeldt said. "(It's) wrecking families. Killing people."

He sees President Trump's announcement as a beacon of hope, one that shines a light a national health concern that hasn't gotten its due.

"I think it comes down to educating the community, educating our partners, getting with our providers medication and doctors, and making sure they're not over-prescribing medications. You can do a surgery on a shoulder and be sent home with a month or two month's supply of Oxycodone. We want to make sure we're not over-prescribing patients with medications," Kufeldt said on Thursday evening.

Kufeldt and other service providers hope this will mean an extension in Medicaid-sponsored assistance for addicts, who come from every neighborhood and all walks of life. Kufeldt says 75 percent of his clients are also diagnosed with mental illness, and may be using opioids, such as Hydrocodone and Fentanyl, to numb the pain they're feeling.

Lougene Marsh is also celebrating the President's support. She's the director of the Johnson County Department of Health. Marsh believes people at large are learning more about addiction, including those in the White House, and that it's time to help those who can't end the abuse.

"It is a national problem," Marsh said. "We've known for quite some time that we have a significant issue with opioid overuse, abuse, overdose in this county. It's time for us to get serious about turning the tide of that epidemic."

The Johnson County Department of Health isn't sure if the President's pledge will bring new funding to their community services, including drug treatment programs. President Trump's stance on the opioid epidemic has changed, from originally stating this problem could be addressed without declaring this a national crisis.