Opinion: Taking on a massive public health crisis


By Rep. Donna Baringer

In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 67,265 Americans died from drug-induced causes, six times the number of people that died from gun violence in the same year. The opioid crisis also creates a significant economic hindrance. In Missouri alone, opioid use disorder and overdose deaths cost the state $34.5 million each day — or $12.6 billion per year. This was 4.2 percent of the state’s GDP in 2016.

There are steps being taken to combat this public health epidemic. At a forum Dec. 6, Gov. Mike Parson, along with St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, proposed a statewide prescription drug monitoring program through a database that tracks controlled substance prescriptions. We are currently the only state in the U.S. without one despite the CDC’s belief that they are “among the most promising state-level interventions to improve opioid prescribing, inform clinical practice, and protect patients at risk.”

I commend the governor and Mayor Krewson, and am in full support of their proposal. Additionally, I hope we can take our efforts a few steps further. A problem of this magnitude requires a diversity of solutions, and taking on such a massive public health crisis requires a deep and intimate knowledge of opioid use, misuse and abuse across Missouri.

Indiana has recognized the need for a more robust understanding of this issue. In response, they have implemented a tool that makes law enforcement and the public more equipped to defeat the scourge of overdose deaths in their state. The Naloxone Administration Heat Map is a visual database that allows anyone to see exactly where first responders are administering naloxone in Indiana. Naloxone, or Narcan, is a medication that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose without any tangible side effects, increasing the amount of lives saved.

I believe Missouri needs to implement our own statewide, easily accessible Naloxone Heat Map. If we were to do so, we would accomplish a few important goals, and move closer to significantly decrease the lives damaged by opioid narcotics.

This step would ensure that our state can properly allocate life-saving resources to the areas where they are needed most. This way, first responders in areas with the highest levels of risk could go into each 911 call ready for anything. There is a common misconception that one dose of Narcan is sufficient in each case. In fact, first responders can sometimes administer many doses, depending on the amount and method of injection of the drug.

This interactive map would also improve public awareness. Missourians would be able to see that the opioid problem is not distant, but a local issue that reaches every part of our state. My hope is that this tool could shine a light on the reality that opioids have the potential to affect all Missourians, regardless of socioeconomic status.

In St. Louis, the fire department is already tracking Narcan administration in the city, and the city’s health department has been conducting interviews after an overdose by reaching out to family members to gather demographic data about victims. By taking the good work that these entities are already doing and simply implementing their efforts statewide, we can begin to move toward an effective solution without reinventing the wheel.

I hope that the residents of Missouri will join me in the call to establish this statewide tool. Although it won’t solve all of the problems surrounding the opioid crisis, it can be a leap in the direction of putting our state at the forefront of containing and eliminating this significant national public health crisis.

To make your voice heard, call your state representative and let him or her know that you would like to see Missouri implement a statewide Naloxone Administration Heat Map.

Rep. Donna Baringer is a Democrat from St. Louis and a former St. Louis alderman.