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Missouri is known as "The Show Me State" for the simple pragmatism of its salt-of-the-earth people. They value straight talk and believable evidence. Unfortunately, when it comes to the drug and alcohol epidemic sweeping Missouri, the evidence is as plain as day.
Drug and alcohol abuse is a national problem, and no state in the US has been spared. For Missouri—which has always grappled with a large amount of poverty--the circumstances are particularly challenging. In 2018 the Missouri statewide poverty rate was 13.2% and the Missouri Department of Mental Health (DMH) estimated that about 388,000 Missouri residents had a substance use disorder. Given Missouri's poverty rate and high addiction statistics, it would be easy to think that being poor causes addiction. But, when we look at the relationship between addiction and poverty, we quickly realize that it's a bit more complicated.
Poorer people are statistically more likely to struggle with drug or alcohol abuse, but this doesn't necessarily mean that poverty causes addiction, per se. In fact in some cases, financial troubles are the direct result of a substance use disorder. Poverty does increase stress, and stress is well recognized as a factor for substance abuse and relapse. When you're struggling, there's a great temptation to turn to substances that make you feel good, like drugs and alcohol. Poverty also increases feelings of hopelessness and decreases self-esteem, which can leave some people more vulnerable to developing substance abuse disorders. But, addiction can cause people to slip into poverty too. Someone who is solidly middle class can fall into poverty if their addiction leads to poor work performance and job loss. It can also then be harder to get a new job, if someone has been fired from their old one. It's a vicious downward spiral. Recent studies indicate that Missouri has experienced a large increase in marijuana and methamphetamine use over the last two decades, with drug-only rehab admissions making up 45% of all admissions in Missouri.
Much like the rest of the United States, the scourge of opioid addiction has blown through Missouri like a tornado, laying waste to whole communities, and decimating families. In 2018, Missouri had 2,922 people who entered treatment for opiates (other than heroin) and the largest demographic was in the 21-25-year-old age group. Opioid addiction is a particularly menacing foe because it's an addiction that can sneak up on people, even when they think they're being vigilant.
Prescription painkillers (like Oxycontin, Vicodin, and Percocet) are highly addictive, in large part because they activate the powerful reward centers in the human brain. These drugs trigger the release of endorphins, (your brain's feel-good neurotransmitters) which mask or interrupt your perception of pain and enhance feelings of pleasure and happiness, creating a short-lasting but extremely powerful sense of well-being. It's only human to love the feeling! And, when an opioid starts to wear off, it's in our very human nature to crave the return of that wonderful sense that everything is perfect and as it should be. This is the first step on the path toward addiction, and it can happen even to people who think they're being careful.
The root of the opioid problem stems from doctors over-prescribing these highly addictive drugs when, in many cases, Tylenol, Excedrin or Advil will do. These drugs may seem safe, especially when doctors prescribe them, but just one or two of few these prescription pain pills can get people hooked and send them off on a downward spiral into the throes of full-on dependency. During the past year, about 39,000 residents in Missouri had a "pain reliever use disorder," and the largest age group affected was adults over age 25 (29,000 people).
Unfortunately, prescription painkiller abuse can often send people down far darker paths. Opioids often lead to heroin addiction, (as heroin is cheaper than the pills, and usually far easier to obtain on the street.) The spiral downward doesn't stop there. When certain street drugs like heroin aren't available, drug abusers often then turn to incredibly powerful and dangerous synthetics like fentanyl, which sooner or later result in a body bag. In the United States, synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, are now the most common drugs involved in drug overdose deaths, responsible for 59% of all opioid-related decedents.
A recent study took a look at the substances most commonly abused by Missouri residents, and the numbers are concerning:
5% of Missouri youth (ages 12-17) reported using pain relievers in a way not directed by a doctor in the past year.
The good news for Missouri residents struggling with drug and alcohol addiction is that help is only a few clicks away. The Show Me State is awash in resources, whether you just need counseling, a broader more community-based approach, or full-on detox services. All it takes is the courage to take the first, terrifying step. Embrace the pain that got you here. Use it, own it, and move past it. Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
Missouri State Facts
Missouri Population: 5,593,868
Law Enforcement Officers in Missouri: 14,793
Missouri Prison Population: 38,400
Missouri Probation Population: 55,767
Violent Crime Rate National Ranking: 15
2004 Federal Drug Seizures in Missouri
Cocaine: 253.0 kgs.
Heroin: 4.0 kgs.
Methamphetamine: 21.2 kgs.
Marijuana: 2,621.6 kgs.
Methamphetamine Laboratories: 1,049 (DEA, state, and local)
Missouri Drug Situation: Mexican poly-drug trafficking organizations control a large majority of the distribution of methamphetamine, cocaine, marijuana, and heroin in Missouri. Various organizations with ties to Texas and California continue to traffic in cocaine and heroin. In addition, hundreds of small toxic methamphetamine laboratories are found in all areas of Missouri.
Cocaine in Missouri: Enforcement activities reflect a steady supply of cocaine coming into the metropolitan areas of Missouri. The states of Texas and California continue to be the major sources of supply. Crack cocaine continues to be readily available in all urban areas of the state. After previous declines, the number of cocaine-related overdose deaths continued to rise in the St. Louis area during 2003. In addition, the number of deaths resulting from cocaine in combination with other drugs continued to increase.
Heroin in Missouri: The trafficking and abuse of heroin in the St. Louis area is a significant concern to law enforcement and to the community. Mexican black tar, and to a lesser degree Mexican brown, Southwest Asian, and South American heroin are all available in the St. Louis area. Heroin abuse appears to have spread from the City of St. Louis to surrounding areas, as evidenced by the continuing increase of heroin-related deaths in St. Louis County. Mexican black tar and brown heroin are also available on a limited basis in the Kansas City area.
Methamphetamine in Missouri: Both Mexican and locally produced methamphetamine continue to be available throughout the state. Generally, locally produced methamphetamine is of higher potency than that imported from Mexico. The continuing proliferation of small toxic laboratories throughout Missouri continues to put a severe strain on the resources of law enforcement. High purity crystal methamphetamine or “ice” has become increasingly available in the Kansas City area.
Predatory Drugs in Missouri: MDMA (Ecstasy) is available at dance clubs and colleges/universities throughout the state. It is brought into the state from Los Angeles, New York, and Miami. LSD is available in all parts of Missouri, but is not seen as a significant problem. GHB and Rohypnol continue to be available.
Marijuana in Missouri: Marijuana is readily available throughout the state with Mexican marijuana being imported from the Southwest Border. Indoor marijuana growing continues to increase. "Grass roots" groups have promoted legalization, but the state has not sanctioned the cause. Law enforcement agencies do not anticipate a shift in the official position. Treatment admissions for marijuana use grew approximately 400 percent between 1994 and 2001, only exceeded by admissions for methamphetamine and amphetamine abuse.
Other Drugs in Missouri: Oxycontin abuse is increasing throughout the state. Vicodin, Percocet, and OxyContin thefts are increasing as a result of window smashing of pharmacies in the St. Charles area. These drugs are being used as an offset to heroin, according to law enforcement reports.DEA Mobile Enforcement Teams: This cooperative program with state and local law enforcement counterparts was conceived in 1995 in response to the overwhelming problem of drug-related violent crime in towns and cities across the nation. There have been 409 deployments completed resulting in 16,763 arrests of violent drug criminals as of February 2004. There have been ten MET deployments in the State of Missouri since the inception of the program: Sikeston, Fountain Park, St. Charles County, Audrain County, Crystal City, Berkeley, Hannibal, Franklin County, Joplin, and Springfield.
DEA Regional Enforcement Teams: This program was designed to augment existing DEA division resources by targeting drug organizations operating in the United States where there is a lack of sufficient local drug law enforcement. This Program was conceived in 1999 in response to the threat posed by drug trafficking organizations that have established networks of cells to conduct drug trafficking operations in smaller, non-traditional trafficking locations in the United States. Nationwide, there have been 22 deployments completed resulting in 608 arrests of drug trafficking criminals as of February 2004. There has been one RET deployment in the State of Missouri since the inception of the program, in Springfield/Joplin.
DEA Special Topics: The St. Louis Homicide Initiative was created by DEA St. Louis and the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department to address and combat the city's increase in drug related homicides. The objectives of this initiative are to identify violent organizations involved in drug trafficking activity and to develop investigative leads by use of court authorized telephone intercepts to clear unsolved homicides and related crimes. Missouri is crossed by a number of Interstate Highways (Interstates 44, 64, and 70 from east to west; 35 and 55 from north to south), providing excellent smuggling routes for drug trafficking organizations. During FY2003, highway interdictions in Missouri led to seizures including approximately 380 kilograms of cocaine, 2.5 kilograms of heroin, 11.5 pounds of methamphetamine, 19,000 pounds of marijuana and nearly $1.8 million dollars.