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Here's where Jackson County is spending money to help residents overcome drug addiction

 A man in a burgundy suit stands behind a podium with the seal of Jackson County, Missouri. A group of people stand beside and behind him.
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
Manny Abarca IV is the budget chair of the Jackson County Legislature. He announced $2 million in funding for social services organizations across the county as part of the legislature's recently approved budget.

As part of the new county budget, five social services organizations will receive funding for their work with unhoused people, drug rehabilitation and behavioral health programs. The groups say the money will help them serve hundreds more people suffering from substance abuse.

The Jackson County Legislature will invest $2 million in five different social service agencies across the metro as part of its annual budget approved Jan. 30.

University Health will receive $1 million for its efforts to fight the fentanyl and opioid epidemic. The remaining $1 million will be divided between Samuel Rodgers Health Center, Heartland Center for Behavioral Change, Mattie Rhodes Center, and Footprints, Inc.

Manny Abarca IV, 1st District legislator and budget chair, said the money went to organizations that have been previously funded by the county so it could be used immediately.

“We felt that we needed to prioritize life,” Abarca said. “And that is what we did today by allocating a million dollars to these behavioral health organizations that we knew were doing the work in the streets right now.”

The public was able to participate in three of the budget hearings, where many people voiced the need for more funding for behavioral health, drug rehabilitation and unhoused services.

Monica Mayberry, director of community behavioral health services at the Mattie Rhodes Center, said the organization has seen rising rates of youth using fentanyl and meth since the onset of COVID.

“(The funding) will help to staff another substance abuse counselor and that allows us to serve even more people,” Mayberry said. “There's just an overwhelming need and not enough funding to go around.”

The legislature wants to fight rising opioid and fentanyl use. Deaths from opioid overdoses have risen steadily in Jackson County since 2018 — last year, more than 17 people per every 100,000 residents died from opioid overdoses.

The Samuel Rodgers Health Center provides affordable health care to Jackson County residents and is planning to use the money to expand its services. Chief clinical officer Dan Gillen said they hope to merge substance use treatment with primary care.

“This will help provide funding for both patient services and positions to help coordinate care with other organizations,” Gillen said. “Our program will be trying to identify and screen for substance use disorder in the primary care setting so we can get people identified and into treatment as quickly as possible so they don't end up in an emergency room or with a bad outcome.”

Dr. Stan Archie, the clinical director at Footprints, said the money means the organization can be more involved with the unhoused veterans and people in recovery they serve. He said Footprints will use the funding to increase services and their awareness efforts in the community.

“We do know the capacity is lacking,” Archie said. “We also recognize that comprehensive services are lacking. If we can have more licensed staff working with people, then we can bring them to a more successful recovery journey in that process.”

Kyle Mead, president of the Heartland Center for Behavioral Change, said the agency has struggled since the pandemic to meet the needs of the community due to a lack of funding and resources. He said the county funding could help them serve up to 300 more people this year.

“That's a sum of money that can really make a difference in terms of being able to either build out capacity through infrastructure spending and what that could potentially do for us in terms of direct service … There's some opportunities to potentially build capacity for medical withdrawal management services (and) inpatient substance use disorder services.”

The county also moved $74 million of American Rescue Plan funds to an undesignated fund account. Abarca said the legislature chose to do that so they could get initial funding disbursed as soon as possible and then distribute money for other county needs throughout the budget year.

“We didn't have enough time really to determine where the need should be prioritized,” Abarca said of the additional funding. “Some of the priorities the county executives sent over are still important. I think we just need some more transparency there. And so this creates a new opportunity for us to go out to the public and gauge (the initiatives) to find out what the process should be to allocate those dollars.”

When news breaks, it can be easy to rely on officials and people in power to get information fast. As KCUR’s general assignment and breaking news reporter, I want to bring you the human faces of the day’s biggest stories. Whether it’s a local shop owner or a worker on the picket line, I want to give you the stories of the real people who are driving change in the Kansas City area. Email me at savannahhawley@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @savannahhawley.
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