Representatives from law enforcement agencies, healthcare facilities, coalition members and guest speakers talked about heroin and opioid addiction during the coalition’s meeting Thursday, Jan. 11, at the Missouri Department of Transportation Northeast District office in Hannibal.

Following President Donald Trump’s announcement that opioid addiction is a public health emergency, the Northeast Coalition for Roadway Safety gathered to discuss how to best combat the epidemic throughout northeast Missouri.

Representatives from law enforcement agencies, healthcare facilities, coalition members and guest speakers talked about heroin and opioid addiction during the coalition’s meeting Thursday, Jan. 11, at the Missouri Department of Transportation Northeast District office in Hannibal. Opioids include prescription medication like the time-released painkiller Oxycontin and the extremely potent drug fentanyl, which is responsible for a growing number of overdose deaths — even in small amounts. Sgt. Eric Brown, with Troop B of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, said that vehicle accidents remain the number one cause of accidental death for teenagers, but the number one cause of accidental death for the general population is now opioid overdoses.

Mathew Strasser, M.D., Internal Medicine, said that NARCAN is effective at reversing the effects of an opioid overdose. He said the drug lasts for a limited time, which means that hospital treatment is necessary — especially if someone took a long-lasting drug like Oxycontin. He said that because NARCAN works so quickly, a person who receives NARCAN will sometimes become agitated when they return to the state they were in before they used the drug.

“If you guys have not seen it being given, it’s pretty amazing,” he said. “It’s just like someone’s almost unconscious, then it works really quickly, then they’re not.”

Strasser said he hoped that funding would be available so more law enforcement agencies and other first responders could have NARCAN on hand. Brown said that all EMS personnel in the state now have the life-saving drug. Strasser noted that medications like Suboxone can be used to help break a person’s dependence on opioids, but he stressed that successful inpatient rehabilitation can reach costs of $30,000. He said that Hannibal Regional has an Opiate Task Force that reaches out to the community, and task force members are looking to expand in the future with front-line resources to give people more direct access to treatment options.

Group members also heard from Kirksville R-3 Superintendent Damon Kizzire, who talked about how opioids and other prescription drugs affected students and loved ones within his school district. He echoed Strasser’s comments of hope that Trump’s announcement could potentially lead to more funding and support options for people affected by opioid addiction. He estimated that besides issues involving truancy or parties, four out of five disciplinary actions in the school district stem from a prescription drug.

Kizzire said some students don’t regard prescription drugs like opioids in the same way they perceive illicit drugs like marijuana or cocaine — one student is facing a Class C felony for distribution of a controlled substance after handing out ADHD medication at the breakfast table. For family members at home, he emphasized the importance of bringing unused medicines to local law enforcement officials to safely drop them off. He said one of the best things parents and other family members can do is to proactively talk with children about the dangers of opioids. Kizzire said he encouraged those discussions with handouts he sent with students warning of the dangers of opioid use.

“I did have a few parents call me back, being highly insulted that I would send something out like that, because their kid would never do that,” he said. “I’ve been in education for 28 years, and the people who say ‘my kid would not ever do that,’ that’s when I question their reality about the whole situation.”

Kizzire said that negative peer pressure is “extremely strong,” but he noted that positive peer pressure could be just as strong. He said a proactive approach was crucial to successfully keeping children from trying opioids. Kirksville R-3’s drug testing program for band, choir, drama and sports is not designed to be punitive, he said, but to show students that basketball, music and other pursuits are better decisions than using drugs.

“Our kids are our future, and I’m so blessed to have that opportunity to work with them everyday,” he said. “I want to do everything and everything I can to give them that opportunity to go on and become the great citizen they can be.”

Reach reporter Trevor McDonald at trevor.mcdonald@courierpost.com