The demand for substance misuse treatment is high, but the availability to treat these patients is a different story in Missouri.

State Department of Social Services Director Rob Knodell told a legislative task force that there needs to be an increase in access to treatment services and a reduction in wait times.

“Capacity remains a challenge,” he said. “That is built not through the Department of Social Services, but through the Department of Mental Health. But if that access to services and waiting times remains a chokepoint, then family situations deteriorate and the ability of agencies in places like child welfare and criminal justice to do prevention work that avoids those downstream impacts is very limited.”

Knodell said his department is confronted with the impacts of untreated and unprevented substance abuse in Missouri.

“It’s no secret that our child welfare system is overburdened and under great strain,” Knodell said. “Substance abuse is a common denominator that runs through the vast majority of cases and the majority of situations involving children that our courts remove from their homes and their families, again, with great trauma to the children and great cost to the state.”

Knodell said he receives reports on a weekly basis about foster children who have died or have been seriously injured, with most of them involving illegal substances.

“No two- or three-year-old child, which are kids that deserve to dream the dreams, live the lives that you and I do, should ever die of fentanyl poisoning, or test positive for meth, but it happens all too often,” he said. “It’s much more common than most people would like to believe.”

He is working to increase access to services and reduce wait times, though, he states it’s not easy.

“I must be clear that without a doubt there are many Missourians who need and depend on our services that have no issue with substance abuse, however, the havoc wreaked is a primary driver for the very need of our massive $17 billion, 6,100 employee agency that previous general assemblies have struggled to fund,” said Knodell.

The Missouri Children’s Division is focusing on prevention – removing the danger, rather than the child. Pointing to investments supported by the state Legislature, Knodell said that the capacity and speed with how substance abuse treatment can be provided will determine the department’s success.

Copyright 2023, Missourinet.