ST. LOUIS — White Missourians between the ages 25 to 54 are dying at a disproportionately high rate from drug overdoses, according to a new report.
The report this past week from the Missouri Hospital Association found 12,585 fatal overdoses in the state between 1999 and 2015, with the annual rate increasing 273 percent during that period. The rate of fatal overdoses for non-Hispanic white Missourians increased 294 percent, compared with 164 percent for nonwhites.
The report found that in 2015, whites ages 25 to 54 made up 41 percent of the state population and 59 percent of overdose deaths.
"It's due to several factors," Mat Reidhead, the author of the report and vice president of research for the hospital association, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "A powerful predictor of poor health outcomes is socio-economic status -- low levels of education coupled with high poverty."
The highest fatal overdose rates since 2000 happened in St. Louis, Greene County and a large region stretching from Jefferson County through the Missouri Lead Belt region and into the Missouri Bootheel area of far southeastern Missouri.
Iron County Sheriff Roger Medley said his requests for state funding for mental health and drug treatment for his area have fallen on deaf ears.
"Understand, we do have a problem, and ignoring it is not going to make it go away," Medley said. "That's not only from me. I believe that's a consensus of many sheriffs."
The report found that Missouri's fatal drug overdose rate has been increasing more quickly than the national rate, with death rates gaining the most steam since 2009. Reidhead said Missouri's lack of a prescription drug monitoring database contributed to the death toll, with 75 percent of new heroin users saying their addiction began with opioid painkillers.
He also cited the addition of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid mixed with heroin, as contributing to a spike in recent deaths.