Johnson County officials discuss growing opioid, addiction problem

Posted: 12:51 PM, Jun 29, 2017
Updated: 2017-06-29 20:02:24-04
JoCo officials discuss growing opioid problem

Johnson County officials held a community conversation Thursday about the growing problem with opioids. 

Last year, according to Johnson County EMS, they responded to more than 250 overdose calls related to opioids and heroin. 

On Thursday, community leaders and the public talked about the problem. Health officials in the county say they are not at crisis level, but numbers are up. 

On average for the last three years, about 30 people die in Johnson County from overdosing on opioids. 

"States with the highest per capita of prescription opioids show the highest opioid overdose fatalities," said Dr. Kimberly Templeton with the University of Kansas Health System. 

Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe said the death toll could be higher. 

"If it weren't for first responders carrying the lifesaving drug Narcan, we would have more deaths in the county from people overdosing," said Howe.


The CDC says 78 people die every day from overdosing on opioids. Close to the 50,000 people died from overdosing on drugs last year, according to the CDC.

"I'm excited to be off probation next April," said Jo Marie Barnaik.

Barnaik is a recovering opioid addict. She got hooked after getting pain pills from an injury.

In 2014, two of her children were taken from her after she was arrested for being high on pills with them in the car.

"I was scared to ask for help because I was scared of what the consequences were going to be," she said.

Like Barniak, hundreds in the metro area are struggling with addiction.

"We gave 273 doses of Narcan last year," said Dr. Ryan Jacobsen, Johnson County EMS Director.

Narcan is a lifesaving drug that can resuscitate an overdose patient who might not otherwise survive. 

“The Narcan piece is important for saving lives, but it’s the band aid fix to a much bigger problem," said Dr. Jacobsen.

Dr. Jacobsen says the opioid problem is not at crisis level, but they want to slow the trend and get people struggling with addiction the help they need.

"Don't be afraid of the consequences. If you continue, you are going to die or [face] other consequences. I wish I would have asked for help way before I lost my kids," said Barniak.

Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe is concerned about Missouri being the only state in the country without a drug monitoring system, making it harder to crack down on people abusing medication because the county is so close to the state line.

Steven Dial is a reporter at 41 Action News. Hear his full report at 5 p.m.