JOPLIN, Mo. (KSNF/KODE) — Not long ago, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services said there had been a drop in fatal opioid overdoses in the state, but, when we checked with our local health officials, they said they weren’t seeing that trend in Southwest Missouri and that there’s actually been a rise in opioid overdose deaths.
Furthermore, a brand new hospital report is saying the statewide trend is starting to reverse and rise, as well.
Gabriel Ware from Joplin has seen it all first-hand.
He says, “I’ve been on drugs since I was in 6th grade, and I’m 24.”
Gabriel’s drug use started early.
“Then it kind of lead from drinking in 6th grade and 7th grade into smoking weed, and then taking Xanax, and then Molly. Molly was really popular when I was younger,” he says.
Gabriel used Molly or Ecstasy, which is also known as MDMA. He used cocaine, and then eventually hydrocodone.
“And then, I would start taking hydros a lot, and mixing it with Xanax, and then the opiate crisis went out, it got so expensive,” Gabriel says.
To save money, he turned to heroin and a combination of other drugs, explaining, “Xanax, heroin, and alcohol all at once.”
That lead to 18 overdoses in one month just earlier this year, he had flat-lined twice.
Gabriel says, “I had so many overdoses that the paramedics knew me by my first name. Cops, first responders knew me.”
His heroin was unknowingly laced with fentanyl. He says the deadly drug is a known issue in our area.
In fact, the most recent newsletter from the Missouri Hospital Association says early 2020 reports are showing a rise in opioid-related overdose deaths.
“I’ve done CPR on multiple of my buddies. I’ve watched people go blue plenty of times. I saw the addictions take over where so many people lose their houses, their families, their kids,” he says.
Dr. Nauman Ashraf, Freeman Ozark Center Director of Addiction Services, explains, “We now see opioid use as sort of a medical illness. Not as a moral illness, where you just kind of have to get them treated, detox them, and get it off. We see it like we are treating diabetes, we are treating hypertension. It’s a long-term treatment.”
Dr. Ashraf says the facility often uses suboxone, which is what Gabriel takes.
It is also an opioid, but, when prescribed, it helps with the full recovery process.
“It’s harder to overdose on it. It doesn’t give you that high and you don’t crash so it breaks that addiction cycle. And, it’s the right treatment for the opioid use disorder,” says Dr. Ashraf.
“I got a psychiatrist, so I got anxiety medicine. But, I’m on suboxone and that’s what saved my life. I mean, honestly,” says Gabriel.
Gabriel is now more than 60 days clean.
He also keeps Narcan on him at all times, which is another part of the treatment program at the facility.
“If something happens, they or their family or friends are going to be the first ones to save their life. Then, you would call the fire department or the EMT to arrive on the scene and take it from there,” says Dr. Ashraf.
“If I can do it, I guarantee anybody can do it, because I mean, I’ve been on the needle since 17 years old. I’m 24, so, you know, I’ve done every drug out there, and been addicted to all of it,” says Gabriel.
But now, Gabriel’s only looking toward the future.
“Find some type of career that I really like. And, maybe help other people get clean. You know, just try to take it one day at a time and try to make a better life than everything that I have so far,” he says.