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Taney County Forms Task Force to Tackle Opioid Dependence

TANEY COUNTY, Mo. - A recurring topic during KOLR10's "Courageous Conversation" on heroin is Missouri's lack of a prescription drug data base -- effectively allowing abusers to "doctor shop" to fulfill their fix.

With that obstacle in mind, multiple agencies in Taney County are looking for ways to tackle the growing problem from another angle.

"To have someone find their son or daughter that is having this issue and they didn't realize it.... the outcome on these is tragic," says Kevin Tweedy, Taney County Coroner. "It crosses all economic boundaries."

Tweedy knows all too well the result of an addiction gone too far: over the last two years overdoses are up 65-percent in the county. It's one of the many reasons why he's helping spearhead a new "prescription drug task force" to find a solution.

"Identify what kind of problem we have, communication between all agencies that are communicating well and then how are we going to address it," he says.

"Prescription drug overdoses have become a more significant killer of young adults than motor vehicle accidents," says Chief Medical Officer of Cox Medical Center Branson, Dr. Brian Clonts. "So it's very much in the forefront."

Dr. Clonts is one of the members of the new task force that is expected to meet periodically throughout the year. He says one of the first steps to finding a solution is getting doctors on the same page.

He says there is a place for opioid medication, but he says prescribers should look for safer alternatives due to dependency and the growing shift from pills to heroin.

"Antidepressants, although the patients may say I'm not actually depressed, we know that some of these antidepressants are very effective in treating pain," he says.

"There are also medications used for treating chronic seizure disorders...there are non- medications modalities such as massage therapy," Clonts says.

Without a database tracking medication in the state, providers face an uphill battle against those actively seeking to get and later abuse opioids.

Clonts says even if a physician is skeptical of a patient's motivation for pain medication, their hands are tied by HIPPA.

"Our hands are not quite as tied," says Branson Assistant Police Chief, Stan Dobbins.

"We can share information with them, especially information involving criminal conduct and things to be looking out for," he says.

Dobbins says one possibility discussed during the task force meetings is a spreadsheet  with police-related information, such as individuals arrested for using false prescriptions, that is accessible by doctors.

"This isn't just about arresting people, this is about getting these folks some form of treatment to help solve the problem," Dobbins says. "So we have to look at that angle as well."

"Is it a good idea to reach out to that physician and say, 'hey one of your patients died and this is what they think they died of,'" says Tweedy, referring to another idea mentioned during the meetings.

At this point the task force is still in its infancy, but the goal is to eventually outline a new protocol for the county.

"Because as long as we operate in silos," says Clonts, "we are never going to tackle this problem head on."

"We're not going to sit back and wait for somebody to bring a solution to us," says Dobbins.


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