Springfield officials encourage "harm reduction" after recording more overdoses

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Springfield city leaders, emergency personnel, healthcare providers and other agencies have come up with an approach to remove the stigma from addiction and buy addicts more time to get help.

The plan comes after new numbers from Springfield police show a dramatic spike in overdoses last week increased through the weekend.

According to an SPD spokesperson, the department recorded a total of 32 overdoses between Wednesday, Oct. 16 and 5 p.m. Monday. That marks at least 11 additional overdoses since the city first reported a string of 21 in a 48-hour period.

No one died from the 11 additional overdoses, but at least two people died from suspected overdoses over the last five days.

Friday, Springfield Mayor Ken McClure said the number of recent overdoses is "critical," and a deadly drug might be to blame.

“All having to do, presumably with fentanyl and heroin. So you presume there was some batch that had that in them. That’s significant to have that amount," McClure said.

Clay Goddard, Director of the Springfield-Greene County Director of Health Department, said right now, the cause of Springfield's overdose spike is still unknown.

"This is not something we can just wish away," he said.

Goddard said it might be fentanyl, or a more pure form of heroin. Either way, it'll take a while to know for sure.

"We do know that this caught people who suffer from this addiction off guard," Goddard said.

He and other area health officials say addiction might be hard to understand, but empathy is imperative.

"This is not a morality issue, this is a disease. These are our neighbors, they're our family members," Goddard said.

Casarah Peng, clinical supervisor with Preferred Family Healthcare, said addiction is blind to who it targets.

"They have a deadly disease, and I mean, we're seeing that right now, people are dying from it," Peng said.

Her clinic offers recovery treatment and free Narcan, the opioid overdose antidote. However, she and Goddard say, Narcan is not the solution to addiction.

"That is one step of it. Treatment is the next step," Peng said.

Until addicts are ready for treatment, area officials want them to use drugs safely, so agencies are encouraging "harm reduction."

"Number one, don't ever use alone because you can't administer Narcan to yourself. Number two, never use behind a locked door because somebody might not find you until it's too late," said David Stoeker, with Better Life in Recovery.

Both Stoeker and Goddard also explained "staggered use," in which individuals actively using drugs take turns, so one can administer Narcan or call 911 if an overdose happens.

Another harm reduction tool is to not share needles.

Click HERE for more harm reduction strategies.

"We don't want to encourage people to continue using," Goddard said.

The point is to keep addicts alive until they're ready to change.

Stoeker explained bluntly, "Dead people never find recovery."

Goddard knows, it's not as simple as just telling someone to quit.

"We're going to need to be patient. We're going to need to demonstrate some empathy and understand that it takes time to get your arms around this epidemic," Goddard said.

Meetings between Springfield city leaders, emergency personnel and other agencies are on-going, while officials decide the best strategies for tackling the overdose problem.