In Warsaw- Senator Blunt Highlights Behavioral Health In The Battle Against Opioids

Judy Kramer
County Reporter
U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (R – Missouri) met with more than 20 local medical, law enforcement, county and municipal administrative personnel at Harbor Village on Saturday, April 6. His visit was part of an effort to highlight the important role community health centers play in providing behavioral health care aimed at addiction treatment and prevention. 
Sen. Blunt is chairman of the Senate appropriations subcommittee that funds the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Under Sen. Blunt’s chairmanship, funding for opioid-related HHS programs has increased by more than $3.5 billion over four years.
During his Warsaw visit, Sen. Blunt chaired a tabletop discussion with participants to talk about behavioral health, drug addiction, and the $9.6 million that Missouri is receiving for state opioid response grant funding. A second funding for this program is expected later in the year.
Also brought up during the visit was the Excellence in Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Expansion Act, which is a pilot program involving eight states (including Missouri) in a two-year initiative to expand Americans’ access to community-based addiction and mental health care. The program is aimed at treating mental illness in community health centers the same way other illnesses are treated, and provides federal aid to hospitals and law enforcement agencies who are often the first to confront people suffering from mental health and addiction crises. Sen. Blunt and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) have been primary sponsors of the project, and are now working together again to extend the program and increase the funding. Sen. Blunt’s Washington D.C. office reports that funding for this pilot program is currently set to expire in September. The senators want to demonstrate that lives and money can be saved if mental health treatment is integrated into community health centers.
According to https;//, the Missouri Department of Mental Health determined that 19 community behavioral healthcare organizations in the state were to participate in the Excellence in Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Expansion Act. Although, names of those healthcare organizations are not specified, they serve 25 of the state’s 28 behavioral health service areas, and are in substantial compliance with the new federal standards for “Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics.”
Because of a tight schedule, Sen. Blunt spent just under an hour at Harbor Village, taking a short tour of the medical facilities, and speaking with participants that included Mayor Eddie Simons; Randy Pogue, City Administrator and Planner; Linda Viebrock, Administrator, Benton County Health Department; Tracy Simmons, COO for Katy Trails; Kari Cullkey, Clinic Site Manager of Katy Trails; Benton County Sheriff Eric Knox; Nathan Burton, Administrator of the Warsaw/Lincoln Ambulance; and Presiding County Commissioner Steve Daleske. There were also representatives from the Warsaw Police Department, members of a drug task force, Compass Health Network, and other medical personnel.
Sheriff Eric Knox spoke up at the meeting saying that it would be good to have some of the behavioral and addiction programs at the county level. He wanted to know how much of the $9.6 million in State Opioid Response grant funding Benton County would get since the county is overrun by amphetamines. Sen. Blunt responded that we would get as much as we can convince the state to give us. According to a Benton County Enterprise article that ran in September 2018, none of the massive federal omnibus budget bill signed into law on March 23, 2018, designating almost $4 billion to fight opioid abuse was allocated to law enforcement in Benton County. The Benton County Health Department also reported that it had not heard of any health organization in the county that was expecting to get funding from the bill.
Sheriff Knox went on to say that his department needed a drug sniffing dog to go to schools where some kids have pills that they may have taken from family members. He said that his office could not afford such a dog (that would cost about $7,000.)  Sen. Blunt said that all over the country, the problems are rural rather than urban. He also said that state legislators need to know about the problem and that most funding for the problem is directed to mental health, and some to law enforcement.
Representatives from the Warsaw Police Department said that drugs and opioids are a rampant problem everywhere. They said that many people have them in their houses, and the biggest problem is when family members get hold of the pills. Pills can also get in the wrong hands when neighbors know that someone living near them is taking medication. Some people supplement their income by selling drugs, and common pain killers bring in $10 or $20 a pill. Stronger pain killers such as morphine are more expensive. It was recommended that a lock box is a good place to keep medications.
Nathan Burton reported that ambulance personnel had distributed 120 doses of NARCAN (a treatment for narcotic overdoses in emergency situations) in the past five years. He also lamented the fact that some patients have been cut loose by their doctors who are trying to follow CDC guidelines. And, these patients still need something for pain but have nothing to help with it. He talked about having a state prescription registry (Missouri doesn’t have one) that would keep doctors and pharmacies connected so that those on pain killers would not be able to “doctor shop” and get prescriptions from many different doctors.
Linda Viebrock reported that Benton County had passed an ordinance in 2017 to help with limiting prescriptions. It is operating in conjunction with the St. Louis Health Department. Under the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP), pharmacies have to report any prescription given out, and physicians can go online to see if a patient is receiving the prescription somewhere else. About 72 jurisdictions in Missouri are participating in PDMP, but there can still be prescription misuse if a patient goes out of town to a location where there is no PDMP and finds a doctor to issue a duplicate prescription for an opioid.
Upon signals from Sen. Blunt’s field representatives who were accompanying him on a whirlwind tour through Missouri, the discussion ended with cordial goodbyes and thanks. The senator posed for photos with several attendees, and headed out to his next meeting. He said that he had been in Kansas City earlier in the day, and was heading to Morgan County to talk with first responders and firemen. He said he would then travel to Camden County and end up in St. Louis in the evening.
“And I live in Springfield,” said Sen. Blunt. “I expect to be in about 11:30 PM.”