Despite mitigated good news last month from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services indicating the state’s rate of increase in opioid deaths was markedly reduced in 2017 (4.7 percent) over the previous year (35 percent), a new report is shining more light on county-by-county statistics. And Polk County’s numbers are not heartening.

According to the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee’s minority staff report, “Fueling an Epidemic: A Flood of 1.6 Billion Doses of Opioids into Missouri and the Need for Stronger DEA Enforcement,” released by Sen. Claire McCaskill’s office July 12, southwest Missouri is particularly hard hit by the opioid epidemic.

The report’s county-by-county data indicates Polk County fares in the first- and second-worst categories in five of six reporting areas, including seeing among the largest opioid dispensing rates in the state, as measured by strength of prescriptions, and some of the highest rates of emergency room visits due to non-heroin opioid use in Missouri.

Below are Polk County findings highlighted in the report:

●    Morphine milligram equivalent opioid dispensing: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2015 prescribing data showed Polk County, with 1,000-plus MME dispensed per capita, was among the top-30 Missouri counties with the highest dispensing rates.

●    Suspicious orders: With between 4.6 and 8.0 suspicious orders reported per 1,000 residents in 2012-17, Polk County earned a slot in the second-highest category of counties in the state.

●     ER visits: With more than 1.1 emergency room visits per 1,000 capita, Polk County was among the top-25 counties when it came to hospital visits for non-heroin opioid use, according to data from 2011-15.

●    Death rates: With a .6 to .8 death rate per 1 million residents, Polk County ranked in the second-highest category of counties for non-heroin opioid deaths in 2012-16. However, DHSS designated certain death rates from non-heroin opioids by county as unreliable due to the total number of incidents, so the picture isn’t exactly clear.

●    MME opioid dispensing over national average: At between 200 and 250 percent, Polk County fell into the second-highest category of Missouri counties based on MME dispensing per capita over the national average, according to 2015 CDC data.

●    Medicare Part D opioid prescribing rates: With a prescribing rate of 4 to 5 percent, Polk County ranked in the second-lowest category based on 2015 Medicare Part D opioid prescribing rates.

The report does not directly address whether or not having a major healthcare system that draws residents from surrounding counties may skew data. But even if there may be mitigating factors at play, the numbers still speak loudly and clearly.

And they testify to the fact that the war is far from won and to the important work continuing to be done by Polk County’s own opioid task force.

Find the full report online at

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