Opioid misuse and addiction is an escalating public health crisis and was the focus of a county community event and panel discussion with local leaders June 29.
“One lost life is too many,” said Tim DeWeese, director of the Johnson County Mental Health Center. “Individuals in Johnson County are dying from opioid misuse, and we have a responsibility to provide effective prevention and treatment services for the health and well-being of our community.”
Jay Belcher, administration lieutenant, and Todd Pembleton, detective, Gardner Police Department attended.
“In 2016 the department saw trends of an increase in opioid use,” Belcher said later. “In 2017, so far, there has not been a noticeable increase.”
Rather than “street” drugs such as heroin, prescription pills have been the primary cause of the increase, Belcher said.
“It appears that we have five cases of DUI that are suspected of narcotic use,” he continued. “Those cases have been sent to the lab pending analysis. Investigation of those cases call for a specialist called a DRE (Drug Recognition Expert). DRE are specially trained officers in the detection of narcotic use pertaining to DUI’s. Gardner has one certified DRE on staff.”
The primary prescription drugs seen by GPD locally include: opiates (hydrocodones, oxycodones and morphine) and benzodiazepines (primarily Xanax), according to Belcher.
The most common drugs abused locally include methamphetamine, highly concentrated THC extracts, prescription drugs and research chemicals, in that order.
To spot drug abuse, Belcher advises parents, “Be nosey. Look at your children’s social media messages and text messages.  Most drug deals are arranged with the aid of these. Parents can find out a lot by looking at these apps.“
According to the Centers for Disease and Prevention, drug overdose deaths continue to increase in the United States, and the majority of drug overdose deaths (more than six out of 10) involve opioid misuse. CDC data indicate 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose (that includes prescription opioids and heroin).
The Johnson County Board of Commissioners recently participated in a study session about opioid and heroin drug filings with the county’s criminal justice coordinator. It’s part of the county’s effort to intervene with education in what is becoming a national health crisis.
“County first responders and members of the medical community are seeing concerns related to opioids increasing,” said Robert Sullivan, criminal justice coordinator “If we wait for the problem to reach the criminal justice system, it will be too late.”
Sullivan presented 17 years of court filing data — 2000 to 2016 — from Johnson County.
Since 2012, opioid court filings have been trending downward. Based on county data, opioid filings decreased by 37 percent from 2015 to 2016 while marijuana and stimulant filings increased, with methamphetamine accounting for 70 percent of all stimulant filings.
Even though criminal justice data do not suggest a growing trend of opioid and heroin misuse locally, Johnson County government leaders are taking proactive steps to educate the public about the issue.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the state of Kansas experiences statistically lower overdose deaths per 100,000 residents compared to the national rate (11.8 in the state; 16.3 nationally). Missouri overdoses per 100,000 are statistically higher than the national rate at 17.9.
Misuse prevention
“Community collaboration is key in preventing substance misuse,” said Lougene Marsh, director of the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment. “Johnson County is best served by effective partnerships with local law enforcement, educators, medical professionals, parents and others, and community partnerships are imperative for a comprehensive approach to creating sustainable change.”
The June 29 event included Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe, members of law enforcement, Johnson County Emergency Medical Services and medical doctors from the University of Kansas, as well as Cottonwood Springs psychiatric hospital in Olathe.