ST. LOUIS COUNTY — The St. Louis County Emergency Opioid Task Force is about to get to work. The group was created by the County Council in June to fight the epidemic that's claimed thousands of lives.
And a member of the newly-formed task force brings life experience that could make a world of difference.
Robert Riley II is no stranger to addiction.
“My history is a long history of using. Addiction is in my family,” said Riley.
The power of addiction eventually landed him in federal prison. He got out in 2008.
“When I was released, I had 20 months sober and I came to St. Louis.”
Since then, Riley's dedicated his life to sobriety and helping others get there. He co-founded the Missouri Network for Opiate Reform and Recovery. He's helped pass laws to get the overdose-reversal drug Naloxone into the hands of anyone who needs them. And most recently, he's helped open four sober living homes in St. Louis.
“We talked to people and asked what would you like? And they said we want a home. So that's what we did.”
It's the kind of judgement-free home that's helping Amanda Droege along the path to recovery. She’s been in and out of sobriety.
“This place means the world to me, said Droege. “I can't say for sure that I would even be alive without places like this.”
They're successes Riley doesn't take lightly.
“I owe it all to the recovery community,” he said.
Riley's approach is through harm reduction. The philosophy focuses on keeping people in active addiction alive long enough to seek treatment.
“They are in the grips of addiction and are going to use, regardless. Our data shows that people are five times more likely to enter treatment with that approach.”
His history and experience made selecting Riley to the Opioid Task Force an easy decision for St. Louis County 5th District Councilman Patrick Dolan.
“There's a situation going on that we can no longer stand by and wait for someone else to take the lead,” said Dolan. “Robert lives with it, he deals with it and he understands it.”
The task force will focus on the opioid crisis as a whole. But for Riley, it'll always be about saving lives here and now.
“We need to address it today so that I don't have one more mom come through that door and say she just lost her child.”
The task force will hold its first meeting July 12.