- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 27, 2017

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 22

Opioid addiction is driving predictions that more Americans will die this year from drug overdoses than the more than 58,000 who lost their lives in the Vietnam War. Something has to change. Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley’s lawsuit against three top U.S. opioid manufacturers is a welcome counterpunch against this national public health crisis.

Hawley sued the drugmakers for consumer fraud, alleging they waged a multiyear effort to hide the dangers of prescription pain pills and to deceive doctors and patients by not disclosing the high potential for addiction. He said they used front organizations that pushed false research and aimed “very sophisticated, very expensive” campaigns at doctors downplaying the addiction potential and extolling supposed health benefits.

It’s not surprising that drug manufacturers, eyeing billions of dollars a year from opioid sales, would find devious ways to maximize profits off higher addiction rates. One of the companies in the suit, Purdue Pharma, paid more than $600 million in fines and other payments 10 years ago in a federal lawsuit and admitted to fraudulently marketing OxyContin for six years. And that was before drug overdoses reached epidemic proportions.

Today’s numbers are staggering. After a 100-year decline in U.S. mortality statistics, opioids are making death rates rise again. Drug overdoses are the leading cause of death for Americans under 50, and only 10 percent of people with opioid-addiction problems get treatment. A New York Times investigation this month said that between 59,000 and 65,000 people died of overdoses last year, compared to nearly 55,000 deaths from car crashes at the peak of such deaths in 1972 and more than 43,000 from HIV/AIDS at the height of that epidemic in 1995.

Hawley did not specify the amount of money sought in Missouri’s lawsuit but said it is hundreds of millions of dollars in damages and civil penalties. The Republican attorney general is right to go after manufacturers to stop the flow of opioids into Missouri, particularly since the state Legislature has failed repeatedly to pass a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. Missouri is the only state without such a program to help physicians identify signs of opioid abuse and prevent doctor-shopping by people seeking to circumvent prescription limits.

Hawley told us that his plan also entails using money that may result from the lawsuit for addict rehabilitation and to fight addiction through public awareness and jobs programs.

“Confronting this epidemic will take a multipronged approach,” he said. “This is the beginning. It is not the end.”

Part of the nation’s reluctance in fighting addiction has been the insistence on treating it as a criminal justice problem rather than a public health crisis. Hawley’s lawsuit seeks to put the blame where it belongs: on drug companies that preyed on consumers with apparent disregard for the deadly addiction crisis that would follow.

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Kansas City Star, June 24

Osawatomie State Hospital, one of two state facilities for the severely mentally ill, has once again failed to achieve federal certification. That fact should disturb every Kansan.

This should also prompt a serious discussion about the state of mental health treatment in Kansas, including the possibility of demolishing all or part of the existing Osawatomie facility and building a new 21st-century treatment center.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services decertified the hospital in December 2015, citing patient and staff safety concerns. It cut off $1 million in monthly Medicare reimbursements, telling the state that problems needed to be fixed before the funding would be restored.

Kansas officials promised to respond. This spring, inspectors took another look and found new problems.

“The kitchen was not maintained in a safe and sanitary fashion,” they found. “The metal blades on the (food blender) were chipped and cracked. The meat slicer was not cleaned and sanitized after use. . The freezer was not holding at 0 degrees Fahrenheit (F) and had water dripping from the ceiling.”

There were other concerns. Infection control procedures were deficient. A nurse “borrowed” medication from one patient to give to another.

The facility lacks on-site radiological services. It has no qualified therapeutic activities director. Some wiring and equipment were improperly installed and maintained, raising the risk of fire.

State officials said they were relieved - at least these were new issues.

“None of the deficiencies that we had before are in what you’ll see here,” said Tim Keck, Kansas secretary for aging and disability services.

That seems small comfort for the patients at Osawatomie. No patient at any hospital should endure unsafe or substandard food or be at risk for infections from other patients. And fire hazards are a concern for patients and employees.

Taxpayers should be angry. The state will continue to lose $1 million a month in federal funds; if those payments aren’t restored until December, as some lawmakers now expect, the state will have forgone $24 million in federal reimbursements for the facility.

It is time to do better. Kansans should demand improved management of Osawatomie and then consider alternatives to the aging hospital itself.

In 2013, after years of complaints, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon proposed replacing the state’s psychiatric hospital in Fulton. Some legislative muscle and creative financing were required, but Missouri is now constructing a $211 million, 300-bed facility in Fulton that’s expected to open next year.

Kansas must now begin a similar discussion. The state needs to figure out the demand for acute care psychiatric services at Osawatomie and Larned State Hospital and then examine the cost and necessity of repairing or replacing one or both of those facilities.

A new hospital could improve patient care, provide a better environment for employees and potentially save the state money in operational costs. The alternative is to spend good money after bad, losing federal payments and providing substandard care to some of the state’s most vulnerable residents.

Every candidate for governor and every state legislative candidate should be asked to take a stand on Osawatomie State Hospital. The status quo is unacceptable. And Kansans deserve better.

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St. Joseph News-Press, June 23

Missouri farmers are making a statement about their interest in and ability to serve foreign markets. Government and political leaders would do well to listen.

This week saw the unveiling of a massive new grain-handling facility about 5 miles east of Hamilton in Caldwell County, Missouri. The project cost in excess of $25 million - the largest investment in the 103-year history of the MFA farmer-owned cooperative.

This is an advancement for agriculture, which already dominates the regional economy. It takes something big to move such a big enterprise forward, but this project will do just that.

The new facility sits along U.S. Highway 36 with access to the Union Pacific Railroad line. A joint project of MFA Inc. and MFA Oil Co., both farmer-owned, it provides the region with an additional 2 million bushels of permanent storage, 1.5 million bushels of temporary storage and rail track to accommodate a 110-car “shuttle” train.

At the height of harvest, the facility is capable of moving 60,000 bushels an hour - allowing the unloading of farmers’ grain as quickly as their trucks allow. The shuttle train can hold about 420,000 bushels of corn or 380,000 bushels of soybeans.

The benefits are clear but bear repeating: This new rail facility will provide new efficiencies to the cooperative and its member farmers. It also will ease harvest-time pressure on other grain-receiving facilities in the region.

In addition, significantly, it makes it possible for MFA to expand its reach into export markets such as Mexico. The ability to move our high-quality commodity grains to meet market demands is critical if our farmers are to receive the best prices for their efforts.

We suggest government bureaucrats and elected officials take note of this.

It is farmers who produce something of value that the world wants and needs. It is farmers, united through their cooperative, who have invested in the infrastructure required to develop new markets.

Government works best when it encourages and supports these activities, and in particular when it does nothing to hinder them. A fresh look at the NAFTA trade agreement is appropriate, but care should be taken not to make it more difficult for Missouri farmers to compete in the global economy.

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Joplin Globe, June 18

No child should go hungry.

Too many children in our region are.

Many children from low-income families are provided free breakfasts and lunches during the school year. There are programs in place that offer meals to those children in the summer, but our region is doing a poor job making sure the children are actually fed.

As reported in a story on the front page of today’s Globe, Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma rank among the 10 worst states in the ratio of students who participate in summer food programs compared with those served during the regular school year.

That is unacceptable. And if you think those families are not using the program because the food isn’t needed, think again.

More than 80 percent of low-income families want to make healthy meals at home for their children, but given the rising cost of groceries, only half can. About two-thirds of them say they choose between buying food or paying for utilities and medical care, according to Share Our Strength, a national organization working to end child hunger through its No Kid Hungry initiative.

Families spend an average of $300 more per month on groceries when kids are out of school; that is about $1,000 more each summer to buy food, a huge strain for low-income households.

“We know that summer is one of the hungriest times for kids across the nation when school’s out, especially for low-income families,” said Derrick Lambert, a program manager at the national No Kid Hungry initiative. “Folks have to make really difficult decisions between the grocery bill or the rent bill.”

When summer school is in session, about 900 students receive free breakfast and lunch in the Joplin School District at three school-based sites, chosen because at least 50 percent of their enrollment is eligible for free or reduced-rate lunches. The program still offers free breakfast and lunch for anyone younger than 18, but for low-income families, transportation to the site twice a day can be an insurmountable problem

“Personally, I believe it’s something that we as a school district, or myself as a food service department, can offer low-income families - an opportunity to have breakfast and lunch,” Rick Kenkel, director of child nutrition for the school district, said. “We know during the regular school year that (for) a large percentage of our students, that’s their two hot meals of the day. And I know when we go into the summer, I don’t think their hunger goes away.”

There are other programs operated around the area, such as the summer feeding program at the Webb City Farmers Market. Up to 200 children are fed during the three days the market is open. Arvest Bank helped provide 1,881,283 meals this year through such organizations, represented by both donations of food items and monetary donations.

Yet it isn’t enough. The number of children who are being fed is far below the number known to be hungry. Being in the bottom tier of states when it comes to feeding our kids is simply shameful.

We must do better. Our school districts should consider opening feeding sites within walking distance of every neighborhood during the summer. If you are a member of or if you know a family who needs help with food, pass the word. If you can volunteer to help or donate to food programs, please do.

The people of this area are generous. We care. We can change this.

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