An extension of bipartisan legislation involving fentanyl has been signed into law by President Trump. Supporters say the legislation will decrease the number of opioid-related deaths.
Longtime Poplar Bluff Police Chief Danny Whiteley had been calling on Congress to approve the extension. The chief was a special guest of U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, at last week’s State of the Union Address in Washington.
“He (Chief Whiteley) is an individual that I rely on heavily for his advice, his expertise, because he’s been combating this for over two decades as the police chief there in Poplar Bluff, Missouri,” Smith says.
Congressman Smith voted for the extension. Poplar Bluff is located in southeast Missouri’s Butler County, which has seen 19 opioid-related deaths in the past two years.
Chief Whiteley tells Missourinet Cape Girardeau television partner KFVS that the majority of fentanyl and heroin in the Poplar Bluff area is coming from St. Louis.
As for the State of the Union Address, Congressman Smith says it’s one of the best speeches he’s heard the president deliver. Smith, who represents 30 southern Missouri counties, says America’s economy is booming and that the middle class is thriving. He credits President Trump for what he describes as America’s comeback.
“We have seven million new jobs that’s been created, 56,000 new jobs just in the state of Missouri under his presidency,” says Smith.
The White House says 11,000 of those new Missouri jobs involve manufacturing and that real median Missouri household incomes are up eight percent under the president, at $57,000.
Smith is the GOP Conference Secretary on Capitol Hill. His district includes Cape Girardeau, Kennett, Rolla and West Plains.
Not everyone in Missouri’s congressional delegation agrees with Smith.
U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, sees the economy differently. Clay, who’s a dean in Missouri’s congressional delegation, is critical of President Trump and his proposed budget, saying it includes a $182 billion cut to the federal food stamp program. It’s known as SNAP.
Congressman Clay says the president is not lifting people off food stamps, but is “kicking them off.” Clay describes the president’s budget as “an assault on working families.”
Congressman Smith also wants Congress to focus this year on lowering prescription drug costs and addressing the mental health crisis.
Smith is also pleased with another part of the State of the Union: President Trump awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to national talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who’s from Cape Girardeau.
Smith says it’s special for southeast Missourians, noting the award is the nation’s highest civilian honor.
“His family lives in Cape Girardeau, his brother, his nephews, his cousins,” Smith says. “I mean, he’s from southeast Missouri.”
The 69-year-old Limbaugh announced last week that he’s starting treatment for lung cancer, saying he’s been diagnosed with an advanced stage of the disease.
Limbaugh was inducted into the Hall of Famous Missourians in 2012.
The Missouri House has given preliminary approval to a bill that would require the creation of a statewide prescription drug monitoring program. Representatives voted 95-56 in favor of the legislation. The GOP House Speaker and the House Democratic Leader both voted in favor of the bill.
Missouri is the only state in the nation without a statewide system designed to help find cases of misuse and abuse. Bill sponsor Holly Rehder, a Republican from southeast Missouri’s Scott City, says the state needs to battle drug addiction problems on the front end.
“We cannot continue band-aiding this problem,” says Rehder. “All other states do not have it wrong and somehow Missouri’s the one state that has this figured out. Seriously?”
She got emotional when talking about her family’s addiction problems.
“As a grandmother who got my grandbaby out of a meth lab, who was living in one, there’s no way that I would have the passion for this bill if I did not know from researching the data that this gets to the underlying problem. A person doesn’t go to illicit drugs immediately.”
Representative Justin Hill, a fellow Republican and former police officer from the St. Louis suburb of Lake St. Louis, says the proposal will not stop illegal drug problems.
“I want to get somewhere where we can save lives,” says Hill. “But if we implement this bill as drafted, we are condemning people to death because fentanyl and heroin are right here and waiting.”
The legislation, House Bill 1693, requires one more favorable vote to move on to the Missouri Senate.
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In the first semester of its esports program, the University of Missouri brought home a national win. The school’s Rocket League video game team is the national champion and the first SEC university to join the National Association of Collegiate Esports.
“Every single school in the next 10 years is going to have a program that resembles something like what we have here and we are the innovators in this space,” says program coach and general manager Kevin Reape. “I have no doubt that this is going to be the future: football, basketball and esports.”
Reape explains that esports gamers are treated like other university athletes. Some get academic scholarships or housing and they must attend regular practice and review tape of their games as a team.
“We will have students that will graduate from here and go on and play these games professionally and we’ll have students that don’t,” he says. “But it’s no different than a traditional sport where students can go, can come here, they can have some of their college paid for because of their experience with our esports program while they are majoring in whatever they want to major in. Then they can graduate and do whatever they want to do. But esports is a way for them to connect to the community and make friends and represent the university while they are here on campus.”
And these teams represent their schools in a live arena environment with at least 20,000 people watching online.
Reape says the school is not looking for elite gamers only.
“A young kid that wants to get involved in esports at the collegiate level should focus on proper behavior when they do play, that’s important to me and every other college coach across the country. They should make sure their grades are good. I want students that are not just good enough to get accepted into Mizzou but want to come here and to accomplish great things after college as well. I want students that are driven to graduate.”
View the University of Missouri esports program web site
Later this month, Drury University varsity esports will co-host the Springfield Esports Festival – a tournament for competitors and casual gamers- as well as a scouting opportunity for esports programs.
According to Drury, the festival is part of a circuit of events for the Midwest Esports Conference, of which Drury is a member. The Midwest Esports Conference is the first esports specific collegiate conference of its kind and includes the University of Missouri, Wichita State University, Robert Morris University, Midland University, Grandview University, and Illinois College.