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NCADA efforts, lawsuit tied to helping curb growing number of opioid-related deaths

Brandon Costerison, Kathi Arbini and Jeff Lowe discuss the opioid epidemic in St. Louis.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Recently released numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that more than 60,000 people died in the United States in 2016 due to a drug overdose. The data show nearly two-thirds of those deaths involved a prescription or illicit opioid.

Further, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl are contributing to the sharp rise in opioid-related deaths.

The problem is stark in the St. Louis area.

“In 2017, we set new opioid overdose records,” said Brandon Costerison, project manager of the NCADA-affiliated MO-HOPE project.

Costerison said that in not-yet-complete data, the region experienced at least 756 deaths that year.

Costerison joined St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and Kathi Arbini, a resident of Fenton whose son died in 2009 of an opioid overdose.

“He was only 21,” she said about her son who died from an overdose in a friend’s basement.

Arbini has turned tragedy into action.

“This is all about treatment, it’s about getting people well and awareness. I don’t know if it’s going to happen soon but I do pray that it happens.”

Her action includes lobbying legislators in Jefferson City. She played a role in making sure first responders carry Narcan, a nasal spray used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, and helped bring about a Good Samaritan law by which people who call 9-1-1 to report a medical emergency will not be arrested and charged with a crime.

“As a parent speaking from my heart, [legislators] realize it could happen to anyone,” Arbini said of the response she’s received in Jefferson City. “They’re just kind of slow.”

Costerison said NCADA’s work focuses on prevention so that people don’t develop a substance abuse disorder.

“The big effort right now is the MO-HOPE project,” he said. “We are doing a lot of different things including training and equipping first responders with naloxone.”

Narcan is the brand name of the generic drug naloxone.

NCADA also provides assistance to people who are addicted to drugs by offering assessments with trained counselors and intervention training.

The organization is one of the co-sponsors of International Overdose Awareness Day – St. Louis, an event on August 31 in Kirkwood.

New lawsuit takes novel legal approach

As part of the discussion about the opioid epidemic, Marsh also spoke with Jeff Lowe, the lead attorney on a case that seeks to target multiple aspects of the epidemic.

“Over the course of the years, opiates have become a major major problem in the U.S. so much so that the average life expectancy in America is decreasing,” explained Lowe, a partner of Carey, Danis and Lowe Attorneys at Law.

The lawsuit was filed in St. Louis Circuit Court and includes 10 Missouri counties and the city of Joplin.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex HeuerEvie Hemphill and Caitlin Lallygive you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Alex is the executive producer of "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.