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story.lead_photo.caption Heather Gieck and Nicki Heather enter the Capitol arm-in-arm Wednesday as they go to speak to legislators during Missouri Recovery Network's Advocacy Day. Gieck is the founder and director of Jefferson City's Healing House where Heather is a current resident. The group started the day at the Governor Office Building for a welcome and to hear opening remarks from MRN associated advocates. Photo by Julie Smith / News Tribune.

Nationwide, more than 68,500 people died from opioid overdoses in 2018.

Missourians made up 1,132 of those deaths.

During fiscal year 2019, 3,808 people entered prisons on drug-related sentences.

Missouri Recovery Network wants lawmakers to be acutely aware of the data.

"We cannot punish our way out of this epidemic," Mark McDonald told more than 100 people gathered in the Governor Office Building early Wednesday morning. "There was a 17 percent increase in total drug deaths in Missouri in 2018. Although we saw a rise in deaths, can you imagine how catastrophic it would have been if you had not been out there doing what you do with Narcan and getting people to services."

Braving the forecast of a winter storm in Jefferson City, McDonald and others from across the state gathered at the office building on Madison Street before boarding trolleys and heading to the Capitol to share their thoughts with lawmakers.

The volunteer lobbyists — made up of a group of individuals in recovery from substance use disorder, family members affected by addiction, behavioral health professionals, and community members supporting recovery efforts and solutions — set out to elevate awareness and spur conversations with lawmakers about substance use disorders. An intent was to share solutions that help promote recovery.

"We're here to elevate awareness and conversations around substance use disorders and recovery, educate legislators on solutions, and help to sustain recovery for Missouri," McDonald said. "Educate Missouri lawmakers on strategies for long-term recovery outcomes. Please take advantage of that opportunity."

Supporters of the effort traveled from across the state — Kansas City, St. Louis and the Boot Heel — to participate in the lobbying effort, Missouri Recovery Network Office Administrator Natalie Eickhoff said.

The main message participants of the rally should take from the event is their voices matter, said Rosie Anderson-Harper, director of recovery for the Missouri Department of Mental Health's Division of Behavioral Health.

"It is important for your legislators to hear what you have to say — to hear your personal stories — for them to know that recovery happens," Anderson-Harper said. "You can be examples of that."

DMH wants to support recovery and recovery services, she said.

There are 53 recovery support providers in Missouri (offering housing, group support, care coordination, coaching and counseling), she said. The state Legislature funded them with $3.6 million last year for faith- and community-based services provided by people who have lived through recovery.

"They have come out on the other side and can help others on that journey," Anderson-Harper said. "They can be there before, during or after treatment, and they can walk that path with people in their community."

One speaker who has been down the path of recovery is state Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston.

Rehder told listeners she came from a home in which her mother struggled with mental illness and one of her stepfathers was a drug dealer. She said her sister was an addict before she was 16. Rehder quit school at 15 to help care for her family. By the time she was 16, she was married, had a baby and was a high school dropout.

Rehder said it took her 17 years to get a college degree.

Rehder knew the signs of addiction and watched for signs in her daughter. However, at 17, her daughter cut a thumb at work. Doctors stitched her up and gave her a prescription for Lorcet (a pain reliever that combines acetaminophen and hydrocodone).

"She comes from a long line of addictions on both sides. That started her 13 years of addiction — in and out of rehab, being sent to prison, my grandson being born with opioids in his system, me getting custody of him when he was 1 year old," Rehder said. "She progressed from opioids to meth, to bath salts, to whatever she could get her hands on."

Now, Rehder's daughter is five and a half years clean.

"When you make it through the struggles that many of you here have made it through — or that many of you have helped counsel others through — you are one tough cookie," Rehder said. "And she is the best mama I know. She does not put up with any business. She knows what she's doing. She has hope for her future."

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