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Anti-drug agency looks to lawmakers, law enforcement for help combating heroin

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.

The renewed awareness campaign launched with a splash two weeks ago when NCADA-St. Louis ran an anti-heroin ad during the Super Bowl.

Now, NCADA-St. Louis is working with St. Louis County Police to keep the public’s eye on the topic with billboards based on that ad.

“(The Super Bowl ad) grabbed a lot of attention. Whether it be negative or positive, it got people talking, and that was the goal. So I thought the best idea to keep this talking going would be to do some billboards and other advertisements,” St. Louis County Detective Casey Lambert said.

Lambert is in charge of the police department’s new heroin education initiative.

St. Louis County Police and NCADA-St. Louis have been working together to raise awareness about heroin since 2011 by holding town halls and placing ads in newspapers and at bus stops, but they weren’t getting the job done, NCADA-St. Louis director Weissman said.

“Kids are continuing to die,” Weissman said. “The problem is outpacing our ability to contain it.”

According to coroner records compiled by the NCADA-St. Louis, 372 people died of opiate overdoses last year in the St. Louis region. More than 2000 have died since 2010.

From left to right: Rep. Jeanne Kirkton, Dr. Michael Mullins, NCADA-St. Louis Director  Howard Weissman, St. Louis County Police Detective Casey Lambert and Rep. Steve Lynch.
Credit Camille Phillips | St.Louis Public Radio
From left to right: Rep. Jeanne Kirkton, Dr. Michael Mullins, NCADA-St. Louis Director Howard Weissman, St. Louis County Police Detective Casey Lambert and Rep. Steve Lynch.

In addition to the expanded awareness campaign, NCADA-St. Louis is launching a comprehensive anti-heroin initiative focused on getting help wherever they can find it—from corporations to hospitals, law enforcement and legislators.

A number of Missouri lawmakers have made curbing the heroin epidemic a priority this legislative session.

Bills have been filed in both the Senate and the House to establish a prescription drug monitoring program. The abuse of painkillers such as OxyContin is considered a gateway to heroin. Similar bills have been filed in the past, but they have been stymied in the Senate.

“We need to do a better job of educating people that the prescription painkiller in their bathroom is a couple of molecules away from heroin on the street,” Weissman said while introducing the initiative. “Any of us who have kids know enough to lock up our firearms. We need to take comparable safety precautions when it comes to prescription painkillers.”

State Representative Steve Lynch (R-Waynesville) is sponsoring a bill to give the public access to Narcan, which can stop an opiate overdose. Currently the bill requires individuals to get a prescription for Narcan. But Lynch said he plans to remove that barrier.

“How many people are going to go to the doctor, pay the doctor’s visit to get that particular prescription? And maybe some would, but it’s certainly another hoop to have to jump through to have to do that,” Lynch explained.

With the planned change to Lynch’s bill, people would instead sign a log at a pharmacy when purchasing the antidote.

There are also several so-called Good Samaritan bills filed in the House. Those measures would offer legal protection to people who call 911 for overdose victims.

NCADA-St. Louis is calling for all three to become law. They’re also calling for more funding to treat addiction.

Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.

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