Hard Hit by Heroin, Missouri Responds with Public Health Activism

By Zachary Siegel 04/16/15

States like Missouri are finally having enough with the high rate of opioid-related deaths.

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The Missouri House voted 146-1 in favor of a bill allowing pharmacists and pharmacy assistants to prescribe naloxone, a pure antidote to opioid overdose. The Midwest, and Missouri in particular, according to the CDC’s brief that came out last March, have seen a surge in heroin mortality. The state is successfully rallying to combat what is being called an opiate epidemic.

The Fix reached out to Chad Sabora of the Missouri Network for Opiate Reform and Recovery. “Stigma is the one of the largest adversary's we face in this battle,” said Sabora. Recently, the nonprofit group organized a protest by dragging a coffin filled with prescription bottles to the Missouri State Capitol.

“Our group is made up of every possible scenario that can happen with the disease of addiction and heroin. We are addicts in recovery, loved ones of addicts in recovery and active addiction, and people that have lost loved ones to this disease.”

Sabora also spoke to his personal role as an activist, “I try my best to remove the drug from the equation when discussing solutions to the problem and educate people that there is no fundamental difference between the alcoholic and the heroin addict.”

Supporters of the new bill say access to naloxone will curb the rise of heroin deaths and ultimately save many lives. Similar bills are making their way through state legislatures across the country.

Sabora, who is also a lawyer, recently brought forth a Good Samaritan law, which grants immunity to those who call in an overdose. He believes that such a bill would encourage people to call 911 when someone is overdosing instead of staying silent in fear of the legal consequences. It has been voted down twice since 2013 and this latest hearing will be the third time it’s been voted on. “There's still a good chance,” he said, “I'd say it’s about 60%.”

Stay tuned for more coverage of public health advocacy and activism sweeping the Midwestern landscape.

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.