Written by Alex Derosier

Around 250 treatment professionals and recovering addicts visited the Missouri Legislature last week to advocate for opioid and heroin addiction treatment policies, including legal immunity for people seeking emergency care and the expansion of medication used in treatment.

Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City

The Missouri Recovery Network is trying to make addiction issues more visible to lawmakers, and several members offered testimony before the House Health and Mental Health Committee.  The organization is focusing on four key pieces of legislation for the 2017 session including three bills supported by state Rep. Holly Rehder (R-Sikeston), whose district has been hit particularly hard with the nation-wide opioid epidemic.

One of these bills, introduced by Rep. Steve Lynch (R-Waynesville), would grant legal immunity for people seeking emergency medical care for themselves or others — something MRN advocates say would lead to fewer overdose deaths.

Advocacy and Education Outreach Coordinator for Missouri Recovery Network David Stoecker testified before the House Health and Mental Health Committee that some people are afraid to get emergency help in overdose situations.

“If you call 911 the police are going to show up, and if they show up they can charge you for any drugs or paraphernalia they might find in the house,” Stoecker said. “So you’re trying to do a good act in good faith to save somebody’s life, and yet you can get criminally charged.”

Stoecker, who has worked as a therapist with Greene County Treatment Courts for nine years, says even with improved access to the overdose treatment drug Naloxone, on-site treatments are no substitute for professional emergency care. Naloxone only holds the side effects of heroin overdose at bay for around one hour, though in some cases as short as 15 minutes, he said.

Not all of the issues the Missouri Recovery Network supports have pending legislation.

Ned Presnall, Executive Director of Clayton Behavioral Treatment Programs, said the way Missouri approaches drug addiction needs major changes. He testified that only one in five addicts is treated with a substitute drug for heroin in Missouri, and that if treatments did use substitute drugs like buprenorphine, success rates would rise.

“The retention rates in most buprenorphine studies are between 60 and 70 percent after a few months,” he told the committee. “The retention rates if you don’t use medication plummet toward zero.”

Presnall said buprenorphine is not a silver bullet when it comes to addiction, but it would be the ideal form of treatment for 60-80 percent of addicts. He says the treatment costs around $600 a month — or about $14 a day per dose, plus treatment appointments.