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Heroin in St. Louis Region Called “Epidemic”, “Crisis”

Megan Lynch
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St. Louis County Police Chief Fitch (Megan Lynch/KMOX)

St. Louis County Police Chief Fitch (Megan Lynch/KMOX)

CBS St. Louis (con't)

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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOX) – More agencies sound an alarm about heroin in our region.

“We have a heroin crisis,” declared St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch at a news conference Thursday morning, flanked by members of the St. Louis Area Police Chiefs Association and other local and federal agencies including the DEA.

Heroin overdose deaths so far this year — 18 — are double the number from this time last year.  “The majority of the deaths that we’re seeing in St. Louis County are white males between the ages of 25 and 30.  We find them at home, in hotel rooms, even on the parking lots of the neighborhood pharmacy with a syringe in their arm,” says Fitch.

But officials don’t believe heroin abuse starts at age 25.   “We know that the heroin problem is in the high schools.  I will also tell you that there are some high schools that are in denial about it,” adds Fitch.

Fitch says heroin is attracting a younger user, because the purity is greater, and addicts no longer have to start with a needle.  What are called “buttons” — gelatin capsules filled with heroin — can be ingested , snorted or even put under the skin.  Although officials say most users end up shooting up to get the high they want, and that leads to overdose.

On top of overdoses and deaths, Fitch says the heroin issue is contributing to other crimes including car break-ins and copper thefts as addicts scramble to support their habits.  He points out most of the users are found in West and South County and outlying areas, while the sellers are often in North County.

To combat the problem, area law enforcement officials, prosecutors and treatment providers have developed a three-part strategy.  The primary focus will be education of teens, parents, educators and law enforcement officials, including a series of public information meetings.  Second, Fitch says agencies will be cracking down harder on sellers, by encouraging users to cooperate and by looking possible state and federal charges.  Finally, Fitch says agencies will be passing out information to any heroin-related offenders about where they can find treatment.

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