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Opioid abuse among key topics to address in Springfield community focus report for 2021

Updated: Sep. 23, 2021 at 9:02 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - The Community Foundation of the Ozarks is starting to release parts of its 2021 Springfield community focus report.

One of the key topics in the report is addressing the opioid crisis in the Springfield community. The report includes a map that shows the location density for opioid incidents in 2020.

The Springfield Fire Department’s Battalion Chief of EMS and Special Operations, Brian Athen, says calls for overdoses are scattered throughout the city.

”It doesn’t really follow your typical crime or fires or any socio-economic pattern,” Chief Athen says.

The fire department has responded to 335 opioid overdose calls so far this year. That’s up 25 more than this time last year, which ended with 310 calls.

“The age groups are a little bit older than what you would expect from alcohol and drug abuse,” Chief Athen says. “They’re in the mid to upper 30′s.”

Executive Director for Better Life in Recovery, David Stoecker, says Southwest Missouri saw the largest increase in deaths in the state, with a 32% increase compared to this time in 2020.

Stoecker wants to address gaps within the community.

“Substance use isn’t a problem,” Stoecker says. “It’s a solution for a problem. So we’re looking for things like unaddressed trauma, untreated mental health diagnoses. We’re looking at people who come from multi-generational, like inter-generational poverty.”

A regional task force was created to address the opioid crisis in our community and find the best approach to help those in need.

“We provide data on our call volume and statistics we run on,” Chief Athen says. “Then there’s the hospital, EMS, law enforcement, the health department and treatment centers.”

Chief Athen says the death rate from overdoses has quadrupled over the last 15 years, which is a big concern.

That’s why support packages are offered to the patient and family with lists of resources.

“A lot of them do want to get help,” Chief Athen says. “It’s a disease and so we can help start that process and provide them the right direction to go to because they’re wanting help they just don’t have the direction.”

Chief Athen says there are spikes in calls some months, often because of other drugs like fentanyl mixed into batches.

“We might have one month with 30 calls and then we may have another month with 50,” Chief Athen says. “The spike is usually created when there is another drug mixed in. Say a user of heroin uses it often and they have a dose that they are used to. It could be contaminated with other drugs, so if fentanyl is added into the heroin, it really increases the strength and we start seeing more and more overdoses.”

Better Life In Recovery offers free Narcan and Fentanyl test strips to community members.

“Last year we provided 4,000 Narcan kits and we’re on track to do that, if not more, again this year,” Stoecker says.

Stoecker says one of the first steps is removing the stigma around drug addiction.

“My kid would never do heroin,” Stoeker says. “My kid would never inject drugs. That’s the homeless people living under a bridge. It impacts everybody. I always say it doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, drive a Lamborghini or walk around on your Lamborfeeties. It impacts everybody.”

On average, the Springfield Fire Department responds to around 35 opioid-related calls a month.

Chief Athen says all Springfield police officers carrying Narcan has made a big difference.

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