ROLLA — If Missouri receives money from its lawsuits against opioid manufacturers, rural health care providers want to make sure they get some of those dollars to support underfunded opioid addiction services.
The Your Community Cares Rural Health Coalition invited Attorney General Eric Schmitt and representatives from the U.S. Attorney's office in St. Louis to Rolla on Friday to talk about the programs and how they are underfunded.
Coalition members laid out statistics and anecdotal evidence of the challenges rural counties face in helping people suffering from opioid addiction. They include a lack of health care providers, high levels of poverty and low population density as factors that have led most opioid services to be clustered in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas.
Schmitt said he understands the needs are great in rural areas.
“What we’ve learned from that is that we want to be as proactive as possible in making sure whatever resources come down, either by way of a verdict or by way of settlement, to communities and to people that need it,” Schmitt said.
Missouri, like most states, is seeking damages from opioid manufacturers that flooded the market with addictive medicine. Schmitt said the state would be willing to go to trial but would rather see a settlement so money can get to victims as quickly as possible.
Schmitt said that could happen as early as this year. A trial and subsequent appeals could drag that timeline out for years, Schmitt said.
Federal prosecutors are also bringing suits against so-called pill mills and unscrupulous doctors.
After hearing the stories of rural health care providers, Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney Tiffany Becker said the goals are clear.
“We need to get people the help that they need and make sure that’s available to anyone who would benefit from it. And it doesn’t discriminate; it’s not urban versus rural. It’s getting everyone,” Becker said.
In the meantime, the Your Community Health Coalition says it’s continuing to maximize grant money and other resources with programs like a mobile unit that can travel around rural counties, and having recovering addicts meet with people in jail.
The attorney general is also operating a website, RealOpioidPain.com, where people affected by the opioid crisis can share their stories. Schmitt said those stories could be part of the state’s case against opioid manufacturers.
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