Local health centers are taking a step ahead in the fight against substance abuse and mental illness.

Katy Trail Community Health was awarded $131,721 from a federal Health Resources and Services Administration grant last week for mental health and opioid addiction treatment. It is one of 24 community health centers in Missouri to receive money from the grant, which handed out more than $3.97 million across the state.

Katy Trail Community Health has centers in Sedalia, Versailles, Marshall and Warsaw. CEO Chris Stewart said the centers plan to use the grant money for three main initiatives.

KTHC will hire an additional behavioral health consultant. This licensed clinical social worker will screen patients for mental health or substance abuse disorders and direct them toward proper treatment.

As a primary care provider, KTCH uses an evidence-based screening tool called SBIRT to test the condition of a patient’s substance abuse. Clinicians also screen for depression and mental illnesses with a separate questionnaire.

Currently, clinic staff administer these screenings by asking patients questions directly. KTCH’s second goal with grant funding is to buy tablets that will allow patients to fill out the questionnaires on their own.

“We believe that patients being able to complete those screenings on the tablets provides more confidentiality for them,” Stewart said. “We ask the questions of folks, and we think we might get better answers if they do it on the tablet.”

KTCH is expecting to spend about $20,000 to buy tablets for each of its four clinics, she said.

Those who score lower on the SBIRT screener are generally in the beginning stages of substance abuse. These patients might need only an intervention and instruction from medical staff at a center. As they score higher, though, they reach a more serious range of substance abuse and can be directed to a center in the Compass Health Network, a nonprofit health care organization in Missouri. Those with serious or chronic mental illnesses are directed to Burrell Behavioral Health in Sedalia.

The third goal for KTCH is to start a Pain Management Clinic at its Warsaw location. Some staff members have already gone through an assistance program concerning opioid addiction.

The clinic will provide patients with pain management services, assistance that could further counteract opioid addiction. Opioids are substances often found in painkillers with many addicts abusing prescription medications, such as oxycodone, morphine or hydrocodone.

Stewart said the program will begin in January, and she plans to start a similar clinic at the Sedalia location later on.

Law enforcement officials have not seen opioid addiction reach serious levels locally and haven’t needed to take measures to combat it like other agencies in the state. Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond said only his drug enforcement deputies are trained and carry NARCAN, a nasal spray that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.

Sedalia Police Department Chief John DeGonia said none of the city officers are trained or carry NARCAN.

Both officials, though, said they are open to incorporating NARCAN throughout their agencies. The Missouri Department of Health applied for a grant that would supply the Pettis County Sheriff’s Office with the medicine. Should the grant be approved, all Pettis County deputies will learn to administer it.

“We don’t have near the demand for it,” Bond said. “We have had some isolated incidents and those numbers have grown and I’m sure they will continue to grow into the future.”

DeGonia said SPD has not applied for any grants to equip officers with NARCAN. However, he said he would have officers learn to administer the drug if the funds and capability for training with it were made available. The response time for ambulances inside the city are quick enough to reach overdose victims that officers normally would not have to use NARCAN.

SPD is noticing the presence of illegal opioids in Sedalia. Officers have encountered more people who abuse prescription pills than those who use heroin, likely because medications are more accessible, DeGonia said.

“We’ve served several search warrants in the recent past where we found baggies of pills,” he said. “Widespread? I don’t know, but it’s going on out there.”

By Nuria Martinez-Keel | Sedalia Democrat