ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – Discouraging numbers for agencies fighting this region’s heroin epidemic.
No real decline in overdose deaths in 2013 from the previous year.
Jared Opsal, Public Awareness Specialist with the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse in St. Louis tells KMOX it appeared the numbers were down last fall, but then spiked over Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Part of it was driven by what Opsal calls a huge increase in the city of St. Louis. He says numbers went up about 30 percent in the city in 2013 compared to 2012. While there have been reports of people from outlying areas driving to St. Louis to score heroin, then overdosing, Opsal says most of the overdose deaths in St. Louis were city residents. He suspects the higher numbers may be because groups like his have had a harder time reaching families.
“We have not been as successful hosting educational events in the city—educational events for parents and for teens and just for the general community,” he says.
In fact, Opsal fears people are starting to tune out messages about the dangers of heroin and painkiller abuse. “We used to fill auditoriums with people wanting to learn about this problem,” he says. “Now we are barely filling classrooms and the problem has not gone away.” In fact it’s invading new populations—like immigrants.
“In some of the more rural areas with their immigrant populations—in particular their Mexican populations—we’re starting to hear of spikes in heroin use in those groups,” says Opsal. “We’re also hearing things from the Bosnian populations in south city where they are struggling with this problem.” Opsal says the council is reaching out to those communities with messages in their native languages.
Along with increases in heroin and painkiller overdose deaths in St. Louis City, Franklin and Jefferson Counties also saw higher numbers in 2013 as did Madison County, Illinois. Opsal says there were slight declines in St. Louis and St. Charles Counties.
Overall more than 300 people died of heroin and painkiller abuse in the bi-state region in 2013—most of the them in their twenties. The epidemic spiked in the St. Louis bi-state in 2011 with 375 deaths.
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