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Some Missouri rural communities seeing a rise in drug use potentially due to undiagnosed mental illnesses

“Individually, they use about anything. Heroin to meth and of course fentanyl is now getting mixed in with the meth.”
Published: Oct. 18, 2021 at 10:52 AM CDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - “I used crystal meth for a while, cocaine a lot,” said Ginger Lenore Phillips. “I would even sneak cocaine into the psych unit.”

Phillips said she’s back from the dead. “I got really super suicidal. I was just done.”

In a desperate plea for help back in 2016 to deal with her mental illness, Phillips said she allowed a friend’s brother to inject heroin into her arm.

“I died on the floor,” she said. “He left. I assume he called the cops. I woke up in the ICU and I was a Jane Doe.”

This experience adding to a long history of encounters Phillips has had with hospitals since the age of 15. More than 20 years later, Phillips said she finally knows what was leading her to abuse drugs.

“It’s a mixture of bipolar type one and Schizophrenia” she said.

Dr. Ken Duckworth, the Chief Medical Officer for the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Arlington, Virginia said drug-use is a common trend among people either misdiagnosed or improperly diagnosed with mental illness.

“A lot of people who are experiencing emotional distress try to change how they feel,” he said.

Dr. Duckworth said the shame society places on people experiencing mental distress, lack of open discussion, and access to services are often what drive people to self-medicate.

“All contribute to the idea that this should be held in silence, and that leads to trouble for people because these are treatable conditions,” said Dr. Duckworth.

Across the nation one in five people have a mental illness.

Specifically in the state of Missouri, a Dec. 2020 report found nearly a million adults over 18 suffer with mental illness annually. In Missouri’s rural areas like Texas and Wright counties, officials said they’re seeing a rise in drug-use and other dangerous behaviors from people experiencing mental health issues.

Back in May of this year, deputies from the Wright County sheriff’s office responded to a call of a woman saying her fiancé was suicidal.

“The call came in that he actually told his girlfriend that when the cops showed up he would kill himself,” said an investigator.

After responding, deputies heard the shot and later found the gunman’s suicide note.

“Really right now, there aren’t resources to get these folks the type of help they need and here we are as law enforcement dealing with it,” said a Wright County deputy from the scene.

The Wright County Sheriff’s Office said it sometimes has to reach out to West Plains, MO and Springfield, MO in order to try and find counseling for people in need. It’s a familiar scenario for Cheryl Thurman, a health department employee, who works in both Wright and Texas Counties.

“One of the behavioral health centers out of West Plains says that they have 400 people waiting for counseling,” she said. As a result, Thurman said she’s working with several clients who are using illegal drugs to improperly treat their trauma or mental health illness.

“Individually, they use about anything,” she said. “Heroin to meth and of course fentanyl is now getting mixed in with the meth.”

In its 2020 report, the State of Missouri found that schizophrenia, bipolar mood disorders, and major depression compromised the majority of its serious mental illnesses cases.

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