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St. Louis County Heroin Deaths Drop in 2012

Megan Lynch @MLynchOnAir
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CBS St. Louis (con't)

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Clayton, Mo. (KMOX) –  St. Louis County has seen another significant drop in heroin deaths this year.

Getting addicts to turn on their dealers and warning teens that abusing heroin could lead to a trip to the morgue are just a couple of tactics that officials believe have had an impact.

“This time last year we had 76 deaths related to heroin, so far this year, same time period, there’s been a twenty percent decrease in heroin deaths in St. Louis County.  We’re at 56.  Which is still way too many, ” St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch said.

At the height of the problem in 2010, 91 people in the county died of a heroin overdose. “When we had that many deaths, the average age for someone that would die of heroin use was between 19 and 25.  Today, the average age of death for a heroin user is closer to 40 to 45,” Fitch said.

That’s the same age range as at the height of the last heroin epidemic in the 1970’s and indicates most of the victims are people who have been abusing the drugs for years, instead of teenagers and college students who just picked up the habit.

Yet Chief Fitch is quick to add there’s still great risk to young people, which is why the educational effort is being expanded from high schools to middle schools. He also warns a new problem could be hooking victims.

Fitch tells KMOX most heroin addicts he’s spoken with first abuse pain killers before turning to heroin. That’s why an increase in questionable pain clinics has him concerned.

“Just take a look around.  Look at the signage you’re starting to see. ‘Got pain’, ‘Pain Clinic’, ‘Need help with pain?’ Any time you see the word pain in there, you can almost rest assured this has something to do with writing prescriptions for pain meds,” he said.

Fitch said he believes these pain clinics, sometimes called pill mills, are moving into Missouri because the state lacks prescription monitoring.

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