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Sen. Blunt warns opioid epidemic continues to rise throughout Missouri

PLATTE COUNTY, Mo. -- The opioid epidemic is moving closer to Missouri and the metro.  That's what senator Roy Blunt told a crowd this afternoon in Platte County.

Blunt, a Republican who sits on the Appropriations Committee and chairs the subcommittee on the Department of Health and Human Services, says funding to curtail the addiction epidemic is already up 1,300 percent.  But he says that's not enough.

The CDC says the drug overdose death rate in Missouri increased almost 32%  from 2015 to 2016 (the most recent statistics available).

The Missouri Hospital Association said drug overdoses have now become the leading cause of accidental death in Missouri.   The group says between 2014 and 2016 (the latest statistics available), 29 Missouri counties had more drug overdose deaths than motor vehicle accident deaths.

According to a spokesman for Synergy Services, more than 1,000 people visited the E.R. in Clay and Platte counties last year - specifically for opioid overdoes.  That's what Roy Blunt discussed in Kansas City Saturday.

The Senator spent about an hour at Synergy Services discussing the opioid crisis in the U.S., and in Missouri.  But the opioid crisis is something the facility deals with on a daily basis, and it's seeing more than ever before.

"We're going to end up turning away even more, unfortunately," said Associate Executive Director Dennis Meier, PhD.

Last year, the organization turned away roughly 1,500 women and 400 teens from its facilities.  So it is already feeling the effects of opioids, though statistically, the Kansas City metro isn't that impacted yet.

"The effort is really to stay ahead of the more disastrous parts of this problem.  And we believe, if we intervene early and do some prevention work, we can stay ahead of this problem."  Meier added studies show that for every $1 spent on child and family emergency services, roughly $9 of future costs are mitigated.

That's where Sen. Blunt comes in.

"I think there's clearly no national solution right now, but  it's clearly understood that it's a national problem," he said Saturday.

Blunt's position as chairman of the Subcommittee on the Department of Health and Human Services on the Appropriations Committee means he decides what places can get funding to battle opioids.  He thinks the solution could lie in places like Synergy.

"My inclination," he said, "is to be very flexible and look at community organizations like this  for a few years, at least. We say 'to take this money, pursue the plan you're going to pursue, and then let's get back to see how it works so we can share it with others.'"

While we talk about the increase in opioid abuse cases here, it's nothing like what St. Louis is facing.  The majority of counties with high opioid-involved mortality rates are clustered in and to the south of the St. Louis metropolitan region, though some additional counties with high opioid-involved death rates can be found across the state. Missouri's metropolitan areas have consistently high rates of opioid-involved overdose mortality.

Blunt said more funding must be funneled to Behavioral Health; many people who suffer from mental illness self-medicate with drugs.