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UMSL team awarded new funding to combat ‘poly-drug’ overdose crisis

As the drug addiction crisis continues throughout Missouri, the state is set to receive $25 million in funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in each of the next two years. That total will include nearly $2.8 million for the University of Missouri – St. Louis. These funds will help on a number of fronts in the battle against addiction and overdose, according to Associate Research Professor Rachel Winograd, who leads the addiction science team at UMSL’s Missouri Institute of Mental Health.

While much of the money will be used to obtain doses of the opioid overdose-reversing medication naloxone and to hire the personnel required to distribute it effectively, the new funding will also enable more focus on the rising problem of stimulant use, mainly methamphetamine and cocaine, Winograd said.

“These are not strictly opioid grants anymore, which is good because most people who use opioids don’t only use opioids,” Winograd said. “This is a poly-drug overdose crisis, not just an opioid overdose crisis.” 

To help address prevention, for example, the Missouri Institute of Mental Health is partnering with Big Brothers Big Sisters for the first time. It has added a partnership with local nonprofit The T, a St. Louis area health education and resource center. Some funding will also support expansion of the Behavioral Health Network of Greater St. Louis’ EPICC project – Engaging Patients in Care Coordination – which connects people who have recently survived an overdose to treatment and recovery resources.

Winograd added that the COVID-19 pandemic has also increased the challenge for combatting the drug crisis. It has disrupted supplies, making these dangerous drugs even more volatile and unpredictable. It also has increased the stress and feelings of anxiety that can lead people to begin using drugs in the first place, while creating more barriers for people seeking treatment. 

“People are getting left behind, and it’s not any specific entity’s fault,” she said. “It’s just the reality of how our society is structured and our society’s response to this pandemic.”

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