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Surgeon general visits Illinois, Missouri to bring attention to opioid abuse

A sign outside the Missouri Network for Opiate Reform and Recovery advertises Narcan, a medication that can reverse an opioid overdose.
File photo |Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
A sign outside the Missouri Network for Opiate Reform and Recovery advertises Narcan, a medication that can reverse an opioid overdose. A federal grant aims to increase access to treatments like Narcan.

Updated at 3:45 p.m., Sept. 20, with comments from Surgeon General Jerome Adams — A nationwide campaign is needed to combat the opioid abuse epidemic that has damaged many families and communities, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said Thursday.

Adams and officials from the U.S. Health and Human Services department visited the St. Louis region to discuss the challenges communities face in dealing with opioid addiction. To address the crisis, Health and Human Services officials announced this week that the federal government will give states $1 billion to fight opioid addiction, including $44 million to Illinois and $29 million to Missouri.

Adams also announced a public education campaign on the dangers of substance abuse, which he said has affected many families, including his own.

While visiting Addiction Treatment Strategies in Edwardsville, where he met with health care officials and local officials, Adams spoke of his young brother Phillip, who is in prison because of crimes he committed to support his substance abuse disorder.

“I only wish we had programs available to him that are available in this very community,” he said. “But we need folks to understand that addiction is a chronic disease but effective treatments are available.”

Adams said it’s not enough for medical personnel and first responders to be prepared to deal with overdoses. People in every community need to watch for signs that someone has a problem.

“We want you to at least be aware of what an overdose looks like and be prepared to respond if you’re in a high-risk area or if someone you know is at risk for an opioid overdose,” Adams said. “Because anyone can save a life.”

Adams and HHS officials later visited Circle Academy’s recovery high school in Webster Groves and participated in a roundtable discussion on the opioid abuse crisis in St. Louis at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

Original story from Sept. 19

The federal Department of Health and Human Services is giving Missouri nearly $29 million for efforts to treat and prevent opioid addiction in the state.

Nearly one third of the money will directly reimburse clinics that offer substance-abuse programs that use prescription medicines to reduce cravings and keep people in recovery. Another third will go to support such programs at federally qualified health centers, which have not historically been as likely to offer medication-assisted treatment.

“The really big thrust with these grants is to increase access to evidence-based medical treatment for opioid-use disorder — specifically buprenorphine and methadone,” said grant director Rachel Winograd of the Missouri Institute of Mental Health, which helps distribute the funds.

The federal government announced the grants one day before Health and Human Services officials —  including Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan and Surgeon General Jerome Adams — visit the region to discuss opioid use in St. Louis.

In the last two years, the state has used similar funding streams to provide treatment to 3,000 uninsured people and to distribute naloxone — also known by the brand name Narcan — which can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

This year’s round of funding gives the state more than it did in the past, Winograd said. The extra funds will help Missouri contract with organizations to reach pregnant women, people of color and other at-risk groups.

“We are really just trying to get those who are at highest risk for opiate use and overdose some potential specialized tailored programming — both in prevention treatment and on the recovery end,” she said.

The state has begun to endorse a medication-first treatment model, which prioritizes medicines such as buprenorphine and methadone. Public health officials refer to them as “maintenance” therapies. They’re legal prescription opioids that reduce a drug-dependent person’s need to get high with heroin or other illegal street drugs or prescription opioids.

Experts consider medication-assisted treatment — along with counseling and other services — the most effective way to keep a person in recovery. Only organizations that subscribe to the treatment model have received the federal grant money, Winograd said.

There were 951 opioid overdose deaths in Missouri in 2017,according to the state health department. While the number of drug-overdose fatalities has been rising in the past decade, the increase wasn’t as steep between 2016 and 2017 as it had been in the years before — a statistic experts see as a positive sign the epidemic may be slowing down.

Winograd plans to meet with HHS officials when they visit Washington University Thursday afternoon for a roundtable discussion. She particularly plans to discuss the opioid epidemic’s outsize effect on African-Americans in St. Louis, she said.

Representatives from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, area hospitals, advocacy organizations and the state Department of Mental Health will also be at the discussion.

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @Petit_Smudge

Sarah Fentem is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.
Mary Delach Leonard is a veteran journalist who joined the St. Louis Beacon staff in April 2008 after a 17-year career at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where she was a reporter and an editor in the features section. Her work has been cited for awards by the Missouri Associated Press Managing Editors, the Missouri Press Association and the Illinois Press Association. In 2010, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis honored her with a Spirit of Justice Award in recognition of her work on the housing crisis. Leonard began her newspaper career at the Belleville News-Democrat after earning a degree in mass communications from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, where she now serves as an adjunct faculty member. She is partial to pomeranians and Cardinals.