(This story is written by Missourinet news director Brian Hauswirth and news director Ed Button at Missourinet West Plains affiliate KWPM Radio)

This year’s decision by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to award Missouri a $10 million opioid crisis grant is being praised by Senator Roy Blunt (R).

Missouri Senator Roy Blunt (right) speaks recently in West Plains, flanked by Howell County Sheriff’s Captain Jared Peterman (photo courtesy of Ed Button at KWPM Radio)

Missouri’s junior senator spoke to Missourinet West Plains affiliate KWPM Radio (AM 1450) during a recent visit to Ozarks Medical Center in Howell County. Blunt says the opioid epidemic is real.

“What we continue to hear is that it’s tending to move from east to west, that the real problems in West Virginia and Kentucky are greater than the problems we’ve had,” Blunt says.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Blunt, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, says there have been more deaths in Missouri from drug overdoses than from automobile accidents.

During his West Plains visit, Blunt says the opioid epidemic is a bigger problem in rural areas than it is in cities.

“Trying to figure that out, trying to figure out what resources smaller towns and smaller hospitals need to have to be getting ahead of that,” says Blunt.

Blunt helped secure a $650 million increase for opioid abuse treatment and prevention programs in this year’s government funding bill.

Blunt says it represents a 430 percent increase over the 2016 funding level.

State Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, who has championed prescription drug monitoring program legislation for five years, notes 6,000 children were removed from substance abuse homes in Missouri last year.

Rehder also says emergency room visits for opioids by Missouri Medicaid patients increased more than 400 percent last year.