ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – The heroin epidemic that is claiming the lives of young people in the St. Louis area and around the country is expanding to a new demographic: suburban adults.

“Regions that have never been affected by heroin overdose deaths are now seeing a large number of them because the user population is expanding dramatically,” says James Schroba, the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Acting Agent in Charge for St. Louis.

Schroba says that user population now includes adults who are coming off legally-prescribed painkillers.

“They get hooked on these opiates, on these painkillers, rapidly but they can’t afford to continue the addiction so they switch to heroin,” he explains. “Because they have an overwhelming addiction to these opiate painkillers – OxiContin, oxycodone – but an inability to get it, they will stop at nothing to find something that will ease that anxiety, ease that drive for the drug.”

As for the suppliers, their strategies haven’t changed.

Schroba says Mexican drug cartels are using a stronger and cheaper form of the drug, sold in small pills or “buttons,” that have been developed over the past five years to attract users both young and old.

“They realize that, look, if we’re going to expand the heroin market, we got to make the purity better so we can expose it to users who don’t like the stigma of the needle,” Schroba said.

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