The City of St. Louis Department of Health’s new Behavioral Health Bureau, [BHB] established in October 2022, begins the new year after establishing the St. Louis Opioid and Substance Use [SOS] Task Force.
Composed of community leaders, faith-based and non-profit organizations, and stakeholders in policy/government, the task force’s mission is to reduce substance misuse in the city.
It will also inform the community about “the needs, barriers, and strengths that impact the ability to provide and sustain services to address substance use,” according to Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, St. Louis director of health.
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,” Davis said.
“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 Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics announced in March 2022 that there were an estimated 107,622 drug overdose deaths in the United States during 2021. This was an increase of nearly 15% from the 93,655 deaths estimated in 2020.
The BHB has focused on developing a comprehensive strategy to address behavioral health for the city, beginning with substance use and overdose. It has launched 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.
In December 2022, OD2A team members spent met with over 100 individuals from more than 40 agencies. Dr. M. Scott Tims, Project Director for the OD2A team, said the week-long series of meetings “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 Tims.
Since October, the bureau has been active throughout St. Louis.
It 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.
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 [www.google.com] 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.
The team also plans to continue discussion-based meetings and collaboration with partners to address substance use and mental health. Community summits are also being planned for the spring. The Department of Health will release more information on how to attend these summits as the coordination process is still underway.
The bureau is supported by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS), resources from the state’s settlement with opioid manufacturers and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
For the current fiscal year, the Department of Health has secured approximately $400,000 from DHSS and nearly $565,000 from opioid settlement funds. 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,” according to Davis.
The Department of Health is hiring, and the city Department of Personnel released applications in November for a 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.
The S.O.S. task force is currently seeking feedback from the community for the strategic plan through a brief online survey at [stlouisdph.qualtrics.com].