Following its establishment last October, the City of St. Louis Department of Health’s new Behavioral Health Bureau has formed the St. Louis Opioid and Substance Use (S.O.S) Task Force. Composed of community leaders in harm reduction, prevention and treatment; members from faith-based organizations; non-profit agencies; and stakeholders in policy/government, the task force will work together to address substance misuse in the city. The S.O.S task force aims to help the community understand the needs, barriers, and strengths that impact their ability to provide and sustain services to address substance use. Additionally, the task force will foster conversation on disbanding stigma and inequities to remove barriers.
In 2021, there were 448 fatal drug overdoses and 3,782 non-fatal overdoses in the City of St. Louis. “Nearly 450 families lost a loved one to substance use; even one of those is too many,” says Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, Director of Health for the City of St. Louis. “Making mental health a priority is a priority for me and has been since day one. It’s why I am so dedicated to building an infrastructure for this bureau that will connect residents to needed services and bridge gaps between equitable prevention and treatment.”
The Behavioral Health Bureau’s work has initially focused on developing a comprehensive strategy to address behavioral health for the city, beginning with substance use and overdose. The Overdose Data to Action (OD2A) program, a collaborative effort between the CDC Foundation and the Department of Health, has engaged community partners in strategic planning, capacity building, and technical assistance to reduce the overdose epidemic’s impact.
Last month, OD2A team members spent a week in St. Louis to meet with over 100 individuals from more than 40 agencies. Dr. M. Scott Tims, Project Director for the OD2A team, said the visit brought new insight to the team’s work and led them to re-work some of their approaches and strategies. “We definitely heard their feedback. Many of the communities just asked that we recognize them and I want those community members to know we see and hear them in the work we hope to facilitate for the city”, said Dr. Tims.
These meetings were only a portion of the team’s work since the bureau’s launch less than three months ago. During that time, the team also:
- Began in-depth data analysis of city data and worked with local partners to gain access to additional data that could be useful in monitoring and evaluation.
- Participated in response to the shooting at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School (CVPA) and mapped crisis response patterns of agencies to school district needs.
- Held over 100 meetings with partners across the city and region to foster relationships and build rapport in the community.
- Formed the City of St. Louis’s Opioid and Substance Use Task Force (S.O.S), a collaborative, cross-systems approach to combat the impact of substance use on families and the community. The S.O.S. task force is currently seeking feedback from the community for the strategic plan through a brief online survey.
- Hosted task-force meetings to glean community needs, engage in discussion-based planning and identify gaps/barriers in services for SUD.
- Developed the Snapshot, a high-level community assessment. The matrix collected data from all different agencies and stakeholders in the City of St. Louis that work in overdose and substance use awareness, prevention, and treatment. It showed the scope of work in all these services/areas and what gaps exist.
- Created an Epidemiology Profile to highlight the burden of substance use disorder on the population/area of St. Louis in terms of socioeconomic, geographic, and behavioral factors.
In the coming months, the team plans to continue discussion-based meetings as it works toward creating a strategic plan that the Department of Health can use as it continues to work with partners to address substance use and mental health in the city. The team is also planning community summits expected for the spring. The Department of Health will release more information on how to attend these summits as the coordination process is still underway.
Funds from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS), a settlement from opioid manufacturers and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) support the bureau’s work. For the current fiscal year, the Department of Health has secured approximately $400,000 from DHSS and nearly $565,000 from opioid settlement funds. In addition to these amounts, the department plans to use $2 million of ARPA funding to continue the work through 2026.
The OD2A team is only the kickstart of the bureau’s team of 14 staff members who will continue the work. The Department of Health is actively hiring, and the City of St. Louis Department of Personnel released applications in November for Public Health Education Coordinator and Public Health Educator. Additional positions will continue to be posted. All applications should be submitted through the Department of Personnel and can be found at www.stlouis-mo.gov/jobs.