Independence faces growing drug overdose problem but few resources available, families say

Health

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — A rise in overdoses in Independence is causing concern from advocates and families. People say drugs like heroin, opiates and fentanyl are destroying lives with little resources to help.

Some say there are two versions of Independence. One where people are living an All-American suburban life, and another where people are falling into addiction with no way out. In Taylor Siebert’s case — before she had a chance.

“She was the all-star kid. We never saw this coming,” Taylor’s mother, Jessica Banister, said.

Nineteen-year-old Siebert had it all. She was on the varsity volleyball team starting in her senior year, homecoming queen and student body president. She worked for her mother’s home cleaning company and planned to take it over one day.

“Taylor purchased what she thought was a Percocet down in the inner city – and one pill. One pill. Three kids took one pill, and two kids made it, and one kid did not,” Banister said.

The teenager died in March after taking a lethal dose of fentanyl. Her mother said when she got her daughter’s toxicology test back, it was the only item in it. No Percocet was found. She believes the pill her daughter took was made by a local drug dealer and pressed into a mold to look like a regular pill.

“We need something different. We need some awareness. We need people to understand how deadly this is,” Banister said.

Tommy McGee feels the same way. Six years ago he got clean, and for three years he’s dedicated his life to helping people face addiction as a licensed recovery coach.

“I get three to four calls a day of people I have to turn away because there’s not enough space. There’s not enough beds. There’s just not enough money,” McGee said.

Over the past few weeks, six people he’s tried to help have died due to overdose or violence. One mother called him in tears.

“She was yelling and screaming, and she said he had died overnight, and to be honest, it hurts,” McGee said.

Independence started its own health department in December 2020. According to the city, they have 11 employees. FOX4 requested overdose numbers from the city, but we were told they “don’t have access to the data.”

The Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services was able to provide overdose numbers, showing in Independence and Jackson County, numbers are on the rise.

McGee would like to see a new 24-hour recovery center in Independence. It’s a vision he hopes to put in place sooner than later.

“I think we can do better, and I think that it’s time for Independence to realize we have a problem. This is going on out here. There are people walking around like zombies in Independence. Digging through dumpsters, and what can we do besides throw them in jail?” McGee said.

Banister said she sees the suffering around her throughout the city and hopes her daughter’s legacy can help create change. Even though Siebert didn’t struggle with addiction, she said it’s the same system killing people each day.

“I am extremely proud of her, and I always will be, of all of her accomplishments and everything she did. In my eyes she’s perfect, and she always will be,” Banister said.

The city of Independence said it’s working to expand the health department and is hiring more people to build it out.

“As the city of Independence continues to add staff to the newly recognized Health Department, we will gain access to different data provided locally and by the state. Staff will be able to analyze this data for trends and report it to the community appropriately. Mental health, which includes drug use and overdoses, is of key importance as we work to provide the care our community needs,” Meg Lewis with the city of Independence said.

Banister said she will be participating in a rally for changes in legislation relating to Fentanyl. She plans to gather with other people from across the country affected by fentanyl on Aug. 27 at the China Embassy.

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