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St. Louis County Making Progress Against Heroin Epidemic

Bill Raack, St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis County Chief of Police Tim Fitch (standing at podium).

For the past year, St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch and community organizations have held nearly two dozen town hall meetings to raise awareness of the heroin epidemic. Deaths from heroin overdoses continue to decline, but officials say they are seeing an uptick in some age groups.

Through September of this year there have been 45 heroin deaths in St. Louis County, that’s compared to 55 last year.

St. Louis Public Radio’s Julie Bierach sat down with Chief Fitch to talk about their efforts to go after heroin suppliers.

Are those overdosing on heroin still in the same age range, mid-twenties, white men?

No, as a matter of fact, that’s one of the most revealing pieces of 2012. Still, white males are the primary victims of heroin, but the age has crept up quite significantly. We were in the age 25 range for the average last year at this time. Now, we’re closer to 45.

When we spoke last, you talked about attacking the heroin problem in three ways; one of which is enforcement, and advocating for leniency for people who are arrested for drug related crimes in exchange for giving information about their suppliers. Has that strategy yielded any arrests?

Absolutely. We’ve made dozens of arrests. We now interview everyone that we deal with on the streets that’s involved in the heroin trade. So, if we arrest a shoplifter at the Walmart in Fenton and find out that they’re shoplifting to support their heroin habit, a detective from our drug enforcement unit will do a detailed interview with them to find out where they’re getting their supply. Many of them are cooperative because no one I’ve ever met who is a heroin addict wants to be a heroin addict. And they think that if we can help shutdown the supplier, that will help them beat their habit.

Addiction specialists blame the heroin epidemic on prescription painkillers.  What are you doing to make sure that these painkillers don’t get into the wrong hands?

Every heroin addict I’ve talked to will tell you that they started with prescription pain meds;  opiates, hydrocodone, Vicodin. The problem is those have become so expensive they can’t afford them anymore, so they switch to cheaper heroin.

Credit (via Flickr/Michael Velardo)

One of things that we’re doing is working with the DEA and other partners to get Missouri to join a prescription drug monitoring program. Missouri is the only state that still doesn’t have a prescription drug monitoring program. And if we could ever get that enacted in Missouri I think it will significantly reduce the number of people that are able to get their hands on illicit narcotics and then become addicted.

Who is selling heroin? Is there a profile of a person selling heroin?

Not really. It could be anybody, from a college student trying to make some money, to a person on the street corner in North St. Louis and North St. Louis County that has a cafeteria style.

While heroin deaths are down in the St. Louis County, they seem to be on the rise in other parts of Missouri. Are they spreading or are dealers going to other parts of the state?

We are the only county in the region where heroin deaths are down, and heroin overdoses are down. All the other ones are up. I really like to think that it has something to do with the education campaign that we’ve had.

Follow Julie Bierach on Twitter: @jbierach

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