Two front page stories in Wednesday’s Missourian provide a good sense of the severity of the opioid epidemic in this area.
Missourian Assistant Managing Editor Gregg Jones reported first responders in a three-county region used the drug Narcan to reverse 159 opioid overdoses from April through the end of 2017.
The actual use of Narcan to treat overdoses is probably much higher, according to medical officials. But the good news is the opioid antidote is saving more lives now that it is being administered by a wider array of first responders, including police officers, sheriff’s deputies and firefighters.
Before last year, ambulance personnel were the only first responders who carried Narcan, the brand name of the drug naloxone, which has proven highly effective in reviving those who have overdosed on opioids like heroin.
Jones also reported the overall number of overdoses and deaths in the same three-county region, which includes Franklin, declined in 2017, from the previous year.
Still, law enforcement officials reported that in the same region they investigated 39 overdoses in 2017 including 13 that were fatal.
While those statistics represent improvement, there is no denying the number of people addicted to heroin and prescription painkillers, and those dying from overdoses, continues to be a major public health issue in this area, the state and the country.
The fact that there have been significant advances made to combat the opioid epidemic — like the policy decision to make Narcan more widely available to first responders and the growing number of cities and counties participating in prescription drug monitoring programs — doesn’t diminish the fact that it is still claiming an alarming number of lives.
Consider that drug overdoses are responsible for more deaths than car accidents in the United States. And that an estimated 40 percent of people who are prescribed opiates develop opiate use disorder or addiction.
The economic cost of the opioid epidemic in Missouri alone was estimated at $12.6 billion in 2016, according to data compiled by the Hospital Industry Data Institute.
That represents 4.2 percent of our state’s total GDP of nearly $300 billion in 2016, ranking Missouri 15th highest among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. This was 1.3 times the state’s total economic activity generated by the agriculture, mining and utilities sectors combined.
These estimates suggest opioid use disorder and overdose deaths cost the state $34.5 million every day. This equates to $1.4 million per hour, $24 thousand per minute or $399 every second of every day during 2016.
That’s shocking and illustrates the severity of the opioid abuse crisis. We’re glad Narcan is saving lives, but more needs to be done to minimize the societal cost of opioid addiction, especially in the area of efforts made to curb the availability of prescription opioids.