America is facing an epidemic.
It’s dealing with a disease that defies demographics. It’s an addiction that preys on the rich and the poor, the young and the old alike – and in both urban and rural communities.
“Everybody is threatened,” President Donald Trump stated during an Aug. 8 media briefing in Bedminster, New Jersey.
He was talking about the nation’s opioid epidemic.
Public health officials have said roughly 100 people die each day from opioid overdose, and they say the issue will get worse before it gets better, according to national health and science publication STAT News. Under the gravest scenario, the country could experience over 93,000 opioid-related annual fatalities by 2027. Cumulatively, that would represent nearly half a million American lives over the next decade if addiction and overdose accelerates at the current pace.
The country is doing what it can, mostly through prescription drug monitoring programs. The state-run electronic databases track the prescribing and dispensing of painkillers to patients. While PDMPs have been established since 1939, according to PDMPAssist.org, today 49 states have the addiction-preventing databases in place. And the one state without it, Missouri, has major municipalities like St. Louis and, more recently, Springfield taking action.
Though Missouri is behind the rest of the country in the PDMP game, the state’s Department of Economic Development and Gov. Eric Greitens are trying to level the playing field.
The DED’s Neighborhood Assistance Program awards tax credits through a competitive process. From detailed applications, the program reviews nonprofit organizations’ quality and fiscal responsibilities as well as their proposed projects’ measurable outcomes. Once the projects are selected, the DED typically issues 50-70 percent tax credits to eligible taxpayers who make a qualified contribution to those projects.
Last year, the department announced it had awarded $5.63 million in NAP tax credits to 28 nonprofit organizations across the state.
It’s a program for nonprofits in need of a helping hand. This year, however, the program criteria have changed, and the DED’s helping hands are becoming a little more selective.
In mid-August, DED officials announced a statewide effort to prioritize applications in the second round of the 2018 Neighborhood Assistance Program to help fight opioid misuse in communities throughout the state. Through the initiative this fall, the DED plans to increase the number of nonprofits working toward the effort to end opioid misuse and decrease the number of addicts.
DED officials say the NAP program will prioritize nonprofits that focus on awareness, education, treatment and reduction of opioid misuse to targeted audiences.
“All state agencies have a responsibility to address this epidemic,” said Rob Dixon, acting director of the Missouri Department of Economic Development, in a news release. “It hinders our state from growth as it damages families, neighborhoods, schools and workplaces.”
Two area nonprofit organizations – the Children’s Center of Southwest Missouri in Joplin and Friends of the Hickory County Health Department in Hermitage – have received some of the largest donations under the program, a combined $591,250 in NAP funds last year.
Leaders of the organizations say the NAP changes could cause unintended problems down the road for organizations in need of extra funding, which don’t traditionally serve those with addiction.
Children’s Center of Southwest Missouri Executive Director Vickie Dudley said the nonprofit earned $265,000 in donations by selling NAP tax credits in 2016. The organization used the money to build three offices to provide its counseling and forensic interview services to physically or sexually abused children in the communities of Nevada and Butler.
“If we were to make an application now, we would have to make that connection,” Dudley said of the opioid emphasis, noting that wouldn’t be difficult for her staff. “Even though we don’t directly serve clients who deal with substance abuse, we are a trickle-down agency. We see children with parents with those issues, and it definitely affects their lives.”
Dudley recommended other nonprofits without that relation should think creatively.
“They would need to make some sort of connection to how they serve people who have been victimized by someone who has an opioid problem or individuals, directly, who have a problem,” Dudley said.
Children’s Center officials don’t plan to apply for additional NAP credits when the program cycle begins in January 2018. It’s not because of the reprioritization by the DED, Dudley said, but rather since the nonprofit still has $425,000 in tax credits available to sell. Its grant cycle ends in December 2018.
Christine Moses, marketing and development director for Council of Churches of the Ozarks, said she hopes the prioritization won’t mean turning away nonprofits in need. The council received a smaller amount, $25,000, in NAP assistance last year.
“It’s really hard to know,” Moses said. “When it comes to drug addiction, however, I commend the state for taking a stand on it. Any life lost to drug addiction is one life too many.”
Every year, the United States spends roughly $36 billion to treat a fraction of those with opioid addiction. By contrast, federal officials estimate that opioid abuse drains nearly $80 billion a year from the American economy because of expenses tied to health care, criminal justice and lost productivity, according to STAT News.
Help is coming. In July, Springfield passed a prescription drug-monitoring program, along with a complimentary bill, allowing St. Louis County to act as Springfield’s PDMP administrator.
On the national level, the president has established an opioid commission and appointed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to lead it and come up with even more creative solutions to get opioid use under control.
“I have had the opportunity to hear from many on the front lines of the opioid epidemic,” Trump said. “And I’m confident that by working with our health care and law enforcement experts, we will fight this deadly epidemic and the United States will win.”
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