The number of Missourians sitting on a waiting list to get into a substance use disorder treatment program could be as many as 2,500 each day. Department of Mental Health Director Mark Stringer says those seeking treatment could wait for several days or months.

“It’s heartbreaking because every day and I mean every day, they (staff) have to make decisions about who gets in for treatment and who doesn’t. Part of that decision is based upon the contracts that they have with the state of Missouri because we have identified priority populations that get in before anybody else,” says Stringer.

Demand for substance use treatment far exceeds spots available in Missouri

Stringer says the high priority access cases include pregnant substance-using women, intravenous drug users and those who commit serious crimes.

There are 110 Missouri cities and 83 counties in the state that have such facilities.

“There are no areas of the state serve more than 20% of the treatment need. There are some that come closer to that 20% than others. Some serve even less than that,” says Stringer.

For example, in the eastern region, Stringer says there aren’t nearly enough treatment services.

“They’re only able to serve a smaller percentage of the population that need it. Whereas in southeast Missouri, we have a number of really good providers that have been in a business for a long time and are getting much better at getting people in and individualizing their care,” says Stringer. “We can’t pat ourselves on the backs, because they may only be serving, at most, 20% of the population that needs it.”

The average length of treatment an individual seeks is 60-90 days in Missouri, but Stringer says the state is trying to move to a long-term treatment basis. This sort of capability allows people to receive ongoing care, but not necessarily in a residential setting the entire time.

“What we’re treating is a chronic condition, like diabetes or heart disease. You don’t treat those things in a 30 program and then give a coin,” says Stringer. “If you have cancer, you may be in treatment for the rest of your life of various kinds. If you have diabetes, you certainly may be in treatment for the rest of your life. Substance use disorders are in that category of chronic illnesses. They’re not short term. There’s no cure but there’s really good treatment.”

Stringer says there’s a misconception that recovery from substance use disorders is not likely.

“Substance use disorders are not easy to treat,” says Stringer. “If you get the right kind of treatment, recovery is not only possible, it’s probable. We see people who get into recovery who have got some really difficult pasts, who have been through some really tough times. If you give people the right treatment at the right time under the right conditions, they will recover.”

Stringer says there are more people in recovery today than there are people in active addiction. He says the people in recovery are fairly quiet about it and don’t make a lot of noise.

Stringer says if Missouri would expand healthcare coverage, more people would have access to care and providers could expand their services.

The average cost of treatment in Missouri is about $2,500 per person.