Springfield, MO

Opinion: Opioids - another industry in Springfield

Adventures in Ink

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At 19 years old, she was $40,000 in debt. This suffocating sum wasn’t student, car or home loans. It was a debt she owed a Mexican drug cartel, and they wanted their money back.

Brooke Beckley, a Nixa High School graduate, was between a rock and a hard place when two cartel representatives traveled to Webster County to collect the money – or else. However, one of the men – 22-year-old Yovanny Mendivil-Balderrama – told Beckley if she murdered his partner-in-crime – 24-year-old Oliver Martinez-Gaxiola – he would lessen her debt.

Beckley agreed and, in April 2016, she and a group of other teens killed Martinez-Gaxiola at a residence in Fordland. Their plan, however, did not go as planned, and the five individuals were arrested and charged with drug trafficking resulting in murder. Four are awaiting sentencing, while the charges were dropped for a 17-year-old who was found innocent.

After reporting the initial news story for the Christian County Headliner, I began asking bigger questions: “Why and how did someone so young choose a career in drug dealing?”

The bottom line? The drug trade is a lucrative industry that also consumes easy prey via addiction. It’s a way to feed a habit with the habit.

At SBJ, we cover local industry, but we often forget the drug trade is an industry operating right alongside our own businesses. And it’s costly.

A 2016 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found the total annual societal cost of substance abuse in terms of lost goods, productivity, treatment and medical services is about $510.8 billion.

But this monetary impact isn’t the greatest loss.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. The number has quadrupled since 1999. From 2000-2015, more than half-a-million U.S. residents died from overdoses. More than 1,000 people are treated daily in emergency departments for not using opioids as directed. In 2014, nearly 2 million people abused or were dependent on prescription opioids.

Epidemic certainly is the correct lingo – and one that motivates when ackowledging addiction as a disorder. Often, however, that’s not the perception.

It’s easy to judge those facing substance addiction because their disorder often originated with a choice. But Turntable Health founder Dr. Zubin Damania provides interesting food for thought in his podcast, “Are We Killing Chronic Pain Patients?” He debates how environmental influence impacts decision making. And while drug use is initially a choice, growing up in a home with substance abuse, Damania argues, is a predisposition.

It’s common in the United States. The American Academy of Pediatrics study estimates one in five children are exposed to substance abuse in their homes, and one in five of those children also misuse drugs or alcohol. Cycles grow, too.

According to a study by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, about two-thirds of the 405,000 prisoners released in 30 states in 2005 were arrested for a new crime within five years of release. A third of those individuals were arrested within six months, and more than half were arrested by the end of the year.

For these reasons, many law enforcement agencies and courts are beginning to focus on the root of crimes and identifying where behavioral-health programs can break cycles. The Christian County Sheriff’s Office has a referral program with Burrell Behavioral Health, in which they can refer at-risk individuals. Courts are implementing drug courts that identify inmates with addictions that resulted in nonviolent crimes and who have potential for recovery.

As a community, we must begin doing our part with a compassionate mindset.

Donate to organizations that are on the front lines – and tell them thank you; it’s a strenuous job. Be aware of those around you, never knowing who might need a helping hand. Get involved with local schools, including career fairs.

Outside our offices, beyond our bottom lines and on the city streets, there’s another industry operating, and its profit comes at the loss of human life. It’s not just the job of crime reporters, police, medical professionals and therapists to ease the epidemic.

It’s all of us, and it’s compassion.

Springfield Business Journal Features Editor Hanna Smith can be reached at


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