Naloxone | St. Louis Public Radio

Naloxone

Donald Hutson is one of hundreds of people who have overdosed while in state prisons since May 2017, according to Missouri Department of Corrections records.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Destini Hutson spent much of her childhood picturing what life would be like when her dad came home.

Over time, her plans turned to the practical: teach him how to use an iPhone, help him find a job, go to Chick-fil-A together.

“‘It’s a lot that you’re going to have to learn,’” Hutson told her dad, Donald, who went to prison in 1997 when she was still a baby.

Those plans came to a halt last September, when Donald Hutson died of a drug overdose at Missouri Eastern Correctional Center in Pacific. He’s one of more than 430 inmates who have overdosed in state prisons since May 2017, according to internal data from the Missouri Department of Corrections. While there are many ways drugs are smuggled into prisons, DOC employees say internal corruption is a key part of the problem.

The emergency department at SSM Health St. Mary's in Clayton is one of several facilities in St. Louis County that County Executive Sam Page would like to have report non-fatal overdoses to the St. Louis County Department of Public Health.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

County Executive Sam Page plans to ask the County Council to require doctors to report nonfatal overdoses to the health department.

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Many people who overdose on opioids are surviving, thanks to the increased use of the opioid-reversal drug naloxone. Knowing how many people overdose — not just how many die — can help the county understand who needs help the most, Page said.

Health workers and law enforcement are starting to understand addiction and overdoses as a public health, not a criminal, issue, Page said. Other health crises, such as measles or flu epidemics, require physicians to report cases to the government. Overdoses should be no different, he said.

Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

Paramedics, firefighters and other emergency responders have long carried the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. But Missouri health officials also want to put it in the hands of as many laypeople as possible.

Thanks to a $5 million grant from the federal government, the Missouri Department of Mental Health is giving naloxone away through a project called MO-HOPE.

St. Louis County Police Officer Kathy Poncin practices administering Narcan Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016 while emergency physician David Tan looks on.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio file photo

Federal dollars for the prevention of overdose deaths caused by opioids such as heroin and prescription painkillers are being sent to St. Louis area counties in both Missouri and Illinois.

Each state also received one additional federal grant aimed at fighting the national opioid crisis. One will help the Missouri Department of Health better track opioid overdoses. The other will increase access to medication-assisted addiction treatment in Illinois, but the Metro East won’t benefit from that grant.

A kit containing the opioid overdose antidote naloxone.
File Photo | Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 4:16 p.m. Sept. 2 with information from pharmacies — According to a spokesperson with the state department that oversees the Missouri Board of Pharmacy, Missouri pharmacies do not have to wait for final rules from the board before distributing the opioid overdose antidote naloxone without a prescription.

“The new provisions are ‘self-executing’ and do not require a Board rule for implementation.  This means pharmacists with a valid protocol are authorized to dispense naloxone, as of [Aug. 28, 2016],” said Yaryna Klimchak with the Missouri Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions & Professional Registration.

A kit containing the opioid overdose antidote naloxone.
File Photo | Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

Missourians working to reduce the impact of the opioid crisis are close to scoring one victory this legislative session: a measure expanding access to the opioid overdose antidote is on its way to the governor’s desk.

But with one day left in the session, another tool many consider vital in the fight against opioids appears out of reach. Missouri is likely to remain the only state in the nation without a prescription drug monitoring database.

St. Louis County Police Officer Kathy Poncin practices administering Narcan Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016 while emergency physician David Tan looks on.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio file photo

Until now, when St. Louis County Police Officer Kevin Magnan responded to an opiate overdose call there wasn’t much he could do except wait for the paramedics to arrive.

“You’re seeing a body that’s barely moving.  Sometimes their eyes are open sometimes they’re not. And you’re not really sure what to do,” said Magnan, who works as a patrol officer in Jennings. “We get there and make sure the scene is secured and then let EMS come in. But that window of us just kind of being able to do nothing but trying to position the body right and try to make sure the person at least has room to breathe and the paramedics can come in quickly is the best we could do before now.”

file photo | Jess Jaing |St. Louis Public Radio

When people overdose on heroin or prescription painkillers, their heart beat slows and they stop breathing. That means snapping them out of the overdose quickly with a drug that blocks the opiate receptors in the brain can mean the difference between life and death.

Right now most Missourians have to wait for first responders to arrive with the antidote, known as Narcan or naloxone. Under state law the public doesn't have direct access to the drug. But there’s an exception to the rule for veterans:  a prescription from the St. Louis Veterans Affairs Health Care System.