Heroin | St. Louis Public Radio

Heroin

Michelle Pattengill, a technician at L&S Pharmacy in Charleston, Mo., holds a bottle of oxycodone, a prescription opioid.
Bram Sable-Smith| Side Effects Public Media

The number of opioid-overdose deaths in St. Louis and surrounding counties continued to rise in 2017, although the increase wasn’t as steep as in previous years.

There were 760 opioid-related fatalities last year in St. Louis, St. Louis County and eight surrounding counties, a 7 percent increase from 2016, according to the St. Louis-based National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. The year before, the number of deaths jumped nearly 40 percent.

“We have seen a major increase in access to treatment, in access to naloxone, in access to harm-reduction strategies, and that might having an impact in slowing down the increase,” said Brandon Costerison, director of the addiction prevention and education initiative MO-HOPE.

A sign outside the Missouri Network for Opiate Reform and Recovery advertises Narcan, a medication that can reverse an opioid overdose.
File photo |Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 3:45 p.m., Sept. 20, with comments from Surgeon General Jerome Adams — A nationwide campaign is needed to combat the opioid abuse epidemic that has damaged many families and communities, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said Thursday.

Adams and officials from the U.S. Health and Human Services department visited the St. Louis region to discuss the challenges communities face in dealing with opioid addiction. To address the crisis, Health and Human Services officials announced this week that the federal government will give states $1 billion to fight opioid addiction, including $44 million to Illinois and $29 million to Missouri.

Howard Weissman and Nichole Dawsey of NCADA
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

The number of opioid-related deaths in the St. Louis region is poised to once again break a record.

Opioid-related deaths include overdoses on prescription painkillers, heroin and, increasingly, fentanyl - a prescription drug more potent than heroin that is often mixed with other substances.

In 2016, 712 people died due to opioids. That number is expected to be about 750 people in 2017, explained Howard Weissman, executive director of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse (NCADA).

St. Louis Public Radio's Jason Rosenbaum interviewed state Reps. Kip Kendrick and Martha Stevens at KBIA studios in Columbia, Missouri.
Ryan Famuliner I KBIA

On the latest edition of the Politically Speaking podcast, St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum is pleased to welcome state Reps. Kip Kendrick and Martha Stevens to the program.

Rosenbaum recorded the show with the Columbia Democrats at KBIA’s studios on the University of Missouri-Columbia campus. Both lawmakers represent fairly Democratic-leaning districts that take in portions of the city of Columbia.

The Rev. Ken McKoy hands sandwiches and snacks on North Kingshighway Blvd. on a cold night.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

There were nearly four times as many opioid-related deaths — 712, according to the NCADA — last year than homicides in the St. Louis area. Overdose deaths hit individuals who are homeless especially hard. A 2013 paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association called it an emerging epidemic among the population.

Most of the social service agencies in the St. Louis area offer drug treatment programs, but advocates contend treatment isn’t always available when people in need are ready to accept the help.

Missouri state Rep. Cora Faith Walker, D-Ferguson, speaks on a panel held by NAHSE-STL. Affinia Healthcare Chief Operating Officer Kendra Holmes, criminologist Dan Isom, and anti-addiction advocate Howard Weissman join her.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio.

Public health experts on a panel in St. Louis Friday admonished Missouri lawmakers for failing to pass a prescription drug monitoring bill during the last legislative session. They also called for more treatment centers.

At least 712 people died after opioid overdoses in the bi-state St. Louis region last year — nearly 200 more than the year before, according to the anti-addiction group NCADA St. Louis. Missouri is the only state without a statewide database.

Lethal doeses of heroin, left, and fentanyl, right. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid painkiller, is up to 50 times more potent than heroin.
provided by the New Hampshire State Police Forensic Lab

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid painkiller, made up almost half of drug overdose deaths in parts of the St. Louis region last year, according to county coroners in Missouri and Illinois.

The drug is up to 50 times more powerful than heroin, and inhaling just a few grains can be lethal.

“If I can be blunt, it’s scary as hell,” said Brandon Costerison, a spokesperson for the anti-addiction group NCADA's St. Louis chapter. “And we don’t really have anything to indicate it’s subsiding yet.”

Missouri lawmaker pre-files needle exchange bill

Dec 3, 2016
A needle exchange kit uploaded to Flickr in 2008.
Todd Huffman | Flickr

Needle exchange programs could become easier to operate in Missouri under a bill pre-filed for the state’s 2017 legislative session.

The programs make sure intravenous drug users have access to clean needles to prevent the spread of blood-borne diseases like Hepatitis C and HIV.  

Michael Velardo | Flickr

The nation’s opioid crisis is threatening to undo decades of HIV prevention work, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.

In response to a national survey of intravenous drug users in 22 cities, they’re calling for wider distribution of clean needles.  

“The science shows that syringe services programs work,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said. "They save lives, and they save money." 

St. Louis County Officer David Meyer tests pushing the Narcan nasal syringe hard enough to create mist instead of dribbling out.
File Photo | Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

The St. Louis-based agencies coordinating Missouri’s federal grant to prevent opioid overdose deaths are training their first batch of first responders Monday afternoon.

Officers and EMTs from the Warrenton and Wright City fire protection districts and the Eureka, St. Charles City, Marthasville and Columbia police departments will be taught how to administer the overdose antidote, naloxone, before collecting a supply of the life-saving drug to bring back to their jurisdictions.

An induction room at SSM Health's new WISH Center.
Provided | Sarah Savat, SSM Health

SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital in Richmond Heights has a new facility dedicated to caring for pregnant women addicted to heroin and other opioids.

The Women and Infants Substance Help, or WISH Center started two years ago as a half-day weekly clinic. But after referrals and word of mouth built up a three-week waiting list, SSM Health decided to expand.

DEA announces big meth bust in St. Louis

Oct 4, 2016
Hannah Westerman St. Louis Public Radio

Nearly 200 pounds of narcotics are off the streets of St. Louis today.

The St. Louis division of the Drug Enforcement Administration has announced the results of a year and a half long operation that resulted in 36 arrests and the seizure of 190 pounds of methamphetamine as well as heroin, weapons and cash totaling more than $1 million.

The methamphetamine alone carries a street value of more than $3 million.

A kit containing the opioid overdose antidote naloxone.
File Photo | Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 4:16 p.m. Sept. 2 with information from pharmacies — According to a spokesperson with the state department that oversees the Missouri Board of Pharmacy, Missouri pharmacies do not have to wait for final rules from the board before distributing the opioid overdose antidote naloxone without a prescription.

“The new provisions are ‘self-executing’ and do not require a Board rule for implementation.  This means pharmacists with a valid protocol are authorized to dispense naloxone, as of [Aug. 28, 2016],” said Yaryna Klimchak with the Missouri Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions & Professional Registration.

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 kit containing the opioid overdose antidote naloxone.
File Photo | 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.
File photo | Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

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 kit containing the opioid overdose antidote naloxone.
File Photo | 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.

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