Heroin

Michael Velardo | Flickr

Gov. Jay Nixon has signed into law legislation to expand access to medication to combat some drug overdoses. 

Naloxone hydrochloride, also known by the brand name Narcan, has been approved by the FDA for use to block overdoses from opioids, which include heroin and prescription drugs, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone.

Chad Sabora of the Missouri Network for Opioid Reform and Recovery answers question from the public safety committee on May 24, 2016.
Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio

The public safety committee of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen approved Tuesday a measure that supporters say will reduce the number of fatal heroin overdoses in the city.

The so-called "good Samaritan law" would give heroin users immunity from drug possession charges if they call 911 for someone who has overdosed. They could still be arrested for other crimes, or if a warrant has been issued against them.

A Narcan kit like this would be available at Missouri pharmacies Rep. Lynch's bill is signed into law.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

Missourians working to reduce the impact of the opioid crisis are close to scoring one victory this legislative session: a measure expanding access to the opioid overdose antidote is on its way to the governor’s desk.

But with one day left in the session, another tool many consider vital in the fight against opioids appears out of reach. Missouri is likely to remain the only state in the nation without a prescription drug monitoring database.

Michael Velardo | Flickr

Lawmakers, prosecutors, and first responders are hoping that two bills introduced Friday at the St. Louis Board of Aldermen will help control the region's opioid addiction crisis.

The first bill, sponsored by aldermen Lyda Krewson, D-28th Ward, Cara Spencer, D-20th Ward, Dionne Flowers, D-2nd Ward, and Megan-Ellyia Green, D-15 Ward, would set up a prescription drug monitoring program similar to one in place in St. Louis County. The second, which is sponsored by Spencer and Krewson, is a "good Samaritan" bill intended to convince more people to call 911 when people overdose.

Mike Morrison talks with two staff members at Bridgeway's detox center in St. Louis.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio | file photo

A proposed federal policy intended to improve access to opioid addiction treatment may not have much of an impact in St. Louis.

The rule change would allow doctors to prescribe a medication that reduces withdrawal and cravings to twice as many patients.

But two of the largest treatment providers in St. Louis say their doctors aren’t in danger of exceeding the current 100 patient-limit for buprenorphine, a drug often trademarked as Suboxone.

Michael Velardo | Flickr

The country’s broadening crisis of heroin and pain pill overdoses comes at a time when many centers for addiction treatment in the United States are operating at capacity. In the St. Louis region, providers report wait times of three weeks or more. A spike in addictions means more people seeking treatment, but at the same time, providers are constricted in their ability to expand.

A Narcan kit like this would be available at Missouri pharmacies Rep. Lynch's bill is signed into law.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

Legislation that would expand access to Narcan, a medicine that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, is being weighed by a Missouri Senate committee. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Steven Lynch, R-Pulaski County, says this is just one aspect of statewide drug policy reform.

“Narcan is not a solution for this epidemic, it is a rescue remedy to keep people alive until we can figure out how to deal with the complex problem of drug addition, use, and treatment,” said Lynch.

Michael Velardo | Flickr

The heroin epidemic is killing people from every corner of St. Louis County, especially people from relatively affluent neighborhoods.

According to a report released Wednesday by the St. Louis County Department of Public Health, people from the inner north and southern parts of the county are dying at the highest rate per capita. But there are high death rates in pockets throughout the county, including Chesterfield and Richmond Heights.

St. Louis County Police Officer Kathy Poncin practices administering Narcan Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016 while emergency physician David Tan looks on.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

Until now, when St. Louis County Police Officer Kevin Magnan responded to an opiate overdose call there wasn’t much he could do except wait for the paramedics to arrive.

“You’re seeing a body that’s barely moving.  Sometimes their eyes are open sometimes they’re not. And you’re not really sure what to do,” said Magnan, who works as a patrol officer in Jennings. “We get there and make sure the scene is secured and then let EMS come in. But that window of us just kind of being able to do nothing but trying to position the body right and try to make sure the person at least has room to breathe and the paramedics can come in quickly is the best we could do before now.”

Actor's portrayal of a teenage girl undergoing the stress of heroin
NCADA-St. Louis | provided

If you’re watching the Super Bowl in St. Louis this Sunday, you’ll probably see another anti-heroin ad. The St. Louis chapter of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse has purchased local ad space during the big game for the second year in a row.

Compared to last year’s upbeat ukulele music, the music for this year’s Super Bowl ad is a bit less jarring. But the tale it tells is just as stark: a teenage cheerleader tries prescription painkillers at a party and loses everything she cares about as heroin takes over her life.

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar speaks with Special Agent in Charge James Shroba before the DEA news conference announcing the federal agency's new, more comprehensive strategy on Thurs. Jan. 28, 2016.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is rolling out a new, more comprehensive approach to fighting drug trafficking, starting in St. Louis and three other cities.

According to the Special Agent in Charge of the DEA’s St. Louis division, St. Louis was chosen as a pilot for the agency’s “360 Strategy” because of the region’s high rate of violent crime and drug overdoses.

e-MagineArt.com | Flickr

Deaths caused by heroin and other opiates in the St. Louis region have dropped. But with a spike in deaths in 2014, the decline only represents a return to the region’s previously elevated count.

After jumping up to 445 deaths in 2014, the preliminary 2015 count from the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse is 324. Except for a spike in 2011, the region’s opiate death toll has hovered in the low-to-mid 300s for the past five years.

file photo | Jess Jaing |St. Louis Public Radio

When people overdose on heroin or prescription painkillers, their heart beat slows and they stop breathing. That means snapping them out of the overdose quickly with a drug that blocks the opiate receptors in the brain can mean the difference between life and death.

Right now most Missourians have to wait for first responders to arrive with the antidote, known as Narcan or naloxone. Under state law the public doesn't have direct access to the drug. But there’s an exception to the rule for veterans:  a prescription from the St. Louis Veterans Affairs Health Care System.

Mary Edwards

Reporters Durrie Bouscaren and Camille Phillips have covered a wide variety of issues in the region in the last year. They joined host Don Marsh to discuss the most problematic ones and agreed the two most pressing issues are homicides and heroin addiction. To date there have been 187 homicides in St. Louis but few arrests.

Michael Velardo | Flickr

For a long time, Gary Carmack of Waynesville watched his 25-year-old son James battle a heroin addiction.

“He would look at me with these big, sad eyes, and he wanted so bad to get off of it,” Carmack said. “Everyone would be saying, ‘you just have to tell him to quit.’ And of course that’s virtually impossible without the right kind of help.”

As a paramedic, Carmack had seen countless overdoses. The family tried desperately to get James into treatment. But in 2013, his son was one of 258 Missourians who died after using heroin that year.  

Members and supporters of the Missouri Network for Opiate Reform and Recovery chat outside the network's new outreach center on Fri. Dec. 18, 2015.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

South St. Louis has a new outreach center for people affected by addiction to heroin and prescription painkillers.

The Missouri Network for Opiate Reform and Recovery plans to offer legal help, treatment referrals and education classes out of its Dutchtown office at 4022 South Broadway.

Pills prescription drugs pharmaceuticals
ep_jhu | Flickr

A patient comes into an emergency room, clearly in pain and begging for medication. Is she physically ill or addicted to narcotics? It’s almost impossible to tell. But a new set of guidelines for emergency physicians, primary care providers and dentists may help doctors sort through those questions.

“Every day in the emergency department, I see patients who currently have or have had issues with narcotic medications,” said Dr. Matthew Treaster, an emergency physician for SSM Health.

e-MagineArt.com | Flickr

It’s commonly understood that prescription painkillers are a gateway drug to heroin—both drugs are in the opiate family and provide similar highs. But new research from Washington University School of Medicine is redefining what that means.

Rather than switching from prescription painkillers to heroin, the Washington University researchers have found that many people who try heroin also continue to abuse prescription opiates.

Mike Morrison talks with two staff members at Bridgeway's detox center in St. Louis.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio | file photo

(Part 3 of 3)

In November 2013 Kari Karidis was in her office at Collinsville High School when a local hospital called to tell her that her son Chaz was in cardiac arrest. When she arrived at the emergency room she was told her son had died. All she could do was go into his room and say goodbye.

“He still had the tube — the breathing tube in,” Karidis recalled, sitting in that same office earlier this year. “I just sat there. I don’t know how long. I just remember thinking I can’t look at this but I can’t leave.”

A dose of naloxone, the opiate overdose antidote.
Openfile Vancouver | Flickr

(Part 2 of 3)

Earlier this month, a new anti-heroin law went into effect in Illinois. The measure requires first responders to carry the opiate overdose antidote naloxone and expands the amount of addiction treatment paid for by Medicaid. But how the drugs and treatment will be paid for is unclear. State funding for addiction treatment is also in limbo as Illinois enters its 13th week without a budget.

Meanwhile, there have been a number of legislative attempts in recent years aimed at fighting the heroin epidemic in Missouri. But the only bill to become law is a measure allowing law enforcement to carry the overdose antidote. And so far very few police departments have taken advantage of the law.

Michael and Kelley McDonald and Laura and Pete Stenger reminisce about their sons Sean McDonald and Mitch Stenger at Cottleville Wine Seller in St. Charles County. Both Sean and Mitch died of heroin overdoses in 2014. Mitch used to work at the Wine Seller
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

(Part 1 of 3) - On an April morning in 2014, Kelley McDonald woke up in her suburban St. Charles home and went downstairs to remind her son Sean to take his bipolar medication.

“I go over to the couch and I kind of shake him and I’m like come on buddy you’ve got to take your medicine. And that’s when I looked at him and he was kind of blue and I started screaming,” said Kelley McDonald, her voice shaking as she sits next to her husband Michael at a restaurant gazebo one year later.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, right, and Madison County State's Attorney Tom Gibbons take part in a roundtable on heroin abuse on Monday in Granite City.
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin provided a fairly blunt reply to the proposition that the War on Drugs failed.

“By some measure, it has failed,” said Durbin, D-Ill. “If the measure is the cost of drugs on the street, it has failed. But when we look at the individual lives saved, there are certainly heroic great stories to be told. But we have to be honest about what works and what doesn’t.”

Michael Velardo | Flickr

In St. Louis County, 36 people have died from a heroin overdose this year. Although the number is a 23 percent decrease from the 47 fatalities reported last June, there is still much to overcome.

Casey Lambert, a detective with the St. Louis County Police Department Bureau of Drug Enforcement, explained that raising awareness and reaching the right crowd is difficult. Many of the citizens who succumb to heroin addiction are often teens and young adults.

Co-directors Cory Byers (left) and Ashley Seering film additional footage in a nursing lab at SIU-Edwardsville. "The Heroin Project" premieres May 3.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated on July 21 to add information about the film's screening as part of the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase. The co-directors were guests on "St. Louis on the Air."

When Ashley Seering and Cory Byers started gathering stories about heroin addiction and deaths in southern Illinois, the Edwardsville-based filmmakers didn’t realize it would turn into a feature-length documentary.

Members of the St. Louis Regional Heroin Initiative flank posters listing those arrested for heroin-related charges Wednesday, June 10, 2015 in the St. Charles City Police Department.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

More than 50 heroin traffickers have been arrested for crimes committed in St. Charles County. Most were arrested in a 30-hour period, bringing a swift conclusion to a ten-month collaborative investigation.

Since last fall state, local and federal authorities have been working together to bring about the arrests, representing what the head of the St. Louis region’s Drug Enforcement Agency described as a more proactive partnership than past collaborations.

Michael Velardo | Flickr

There’s a new collaborative effort underway to slow down the St. Louis region’s heroin epidemic.

Spearheaded by the St. Louis chapter of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, the plan focuses on using innovative ways to increase awareness about the problem while partnering with legislators, law enforcement and doctors to save lives and reduce access to opiates—both heroin and prescription painkillers.

Michael Velardo | Flickr

St. Louis has a heroin problem. New attention was brought to that problem during the Super Bowl, when the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse–St. Louis bought local airtime for a one-minute ad.

Michael Velardo | Flickr

With hundreds of people in the greater St. Louis region dying each year from heroin overdoses, the St. Louis County Police Department is launching a new education initiative to raise public awareness of the drug's dangers.

The department's new heroin initiative Detective Casey Lambert said her role is to talk to people across the county, of all ages, about heroin - what it does to the body, why it's so dangerous, and how to recognize signs of addiction.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse – St. Louis is airing an anti-heroin ad (still shot shown) locally during the Super Bowl this Sunday.
Courtesy National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse – St. Louis Area

Among the much-anticipated Super Bowl commercials airing Sunday will be an anti-heroin ad created by a St. Louis area non-profit and a local ad agency.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse–St. Louis Area created the ad with the help of Schupp Consulting and local director Scott Ferguson to bring attention the region's growing heroin problem.

Heroin initiative detective said many teens are no longer afraid to take heroin because it now can be smoked or snorted rather than injected, eliminating the need for needles.
Wikimedia Commons

Missouri state Rep. Dave Hinson has seen first-hand what a lifesaver a heroin antidote can be.

Hinson, R-St. Clair, is a paramedic based in north St. Louis County. Just recently, he said, he used the antidote to save the life of a homeless man at a Metrolink stop who had apparently overdosed on heroin.

“It’s pretty simple to identify a heroin overdose, with the pinpoint pupils,” said Hinson. If the antidote is given soon enough – before the user has stopped breathing for several minutes – the effects of the heroin can be swiftly reversed.

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