By Tony Bryson
Special to the North Cass Herald
U.S. Rep. Mark Alford (R-Mo.) hosted a Fentanyl Forum at Memorial Station in Belton on Aug. 7. This event, according to the press release, was, “(D)esigned as a collaborative space to delve into the seriousness of the fentanyl crisis in our community and strive for collective solutions.”
Those attending included the host Alford, the Cass County Sheriff’s Office, State Rep. Sherri Gallick (R-Belton), the Missouri State Highway Patrol Troop A Drug & Crime Force, plus may other law-enforcement and civic organizations. Those gathered for the forum were both engaged and attentive, with very few empty seats in the venue.
As part of his opening statement, Alford noted that fentanyl overdoses have reached a crisis point, saying that it is getting into, “the heart of our district, the heart of Missouri… and stopping the hearts of our loved ones.” He assured the attendees that he would’, “Do everything I can on the Federal level,” but that the solution would require a more widespread, grassroots effort. That, he stated, was the reason for the forum.
After he spoke, those on the panel who had been directly affected by fentanyl usage were given on opportunity to speak. Tracy Carpenter, an addiction advocate and Pastor of Grace United Methodist Church, was one of those who spoke; she had lost her son Andrew in 2017.
“The pain is still there,” she said, despite the time which has passed. She talked about the boy that he was before his drug use, and told of how she learned of his passing. “We received a call, in the wee hours of the morning on our wedding anniversary. It was the head of the county morgue telling us that Andrew was there.”
She has since worked on understanding – and advocating for – those suffering addiction, saying, “I think that a lot of people just assume that the people who get hooked on drugs are just ‘those people out there.’ I tell you they are not; they are councilors’ kids, they are pastors’ kids… anyone.”
Another speaker was Max Muller, Director for the Kansas City chapter of Full Circle Treatment Center. His story was unique, in that he not only an advocate for those suffering with addiction but also a survivor.
He discussed the excuses and justifications he had created for himself (one being how his addition started, with Percocet prescribed after a serious car accident), along with his journey to taking ownership of his problem and seeking help on multiple occasions. He now channels his energies into assisting others, the efforts of which having become his life’s work.
As the evening progressed advocate statements from several speakers were heard, along with a Q&A session. Tables were set up with tools to help those struggling; these included free packages of Narcan, a medication utilized to reduce or reverse the effects of fentanyl and other opioids. Another vital focus of the meeting was to break the stigma associated with admitting to addiction, and to work toward encouraging those suffering to seek help.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] website, “Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. It is a major contributor to fatal and nonfatal overdoses in the U.S.”
The fentanyl epidemic has certainly made its mark on Missouri. Per the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services data, in 2021 non-heroin opioid overdoses made up over two-thirds of the nearly 2,163 drug-related deaths recorded in the state. Those non-heroin opioid statistics, the vast majority of which being the result of fentanyl, nearly tripled over that five year period, jumping from 531 fatalities in 2016 to nearly 1,500 in 2021.