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.
“We are no longer in a situation where you can assume that this is a localized issue. It is all over the place: affluence, suburbia, inner cities — you name it,” said Dr. Faisal Khan, director of St. Louis County Department of Public Health.
In a breakdown of heroin overdose death rates by neighborhood poverty, the health department found that most St. Louis County residents who die of heroin overdoses come from affluent neighborhoods with low poverty rates.
In 2014, for instance, six times as many people died from more affluent neighborhoods.
“It is shockingly surprising (that more people died in low poverty areas),” said Khan. “We did not expect to find that picture. But it just goes to show that this is one of those issues where people are buying these drugs, overdosing on these drugs wherever they can get their hands on them.”
According to the report, the majority of St. Louis County residents dying of heroin overdoses are men between the ages of 25 and 44. But the health department also tracked an increase in the number of women and younger people dying of the drug.
“What is particularly shocking is the fact that young individuals in their teens — students — are beginning to experiment with drugs that eventually lead them to heroin addiction. And that is a very deadly pathway,” Khan said. “What worries us is when we see even two or three cases of heroin overdose occurring in teenagers. The fact is that our hospital systems and our ERs and our urgent care centers are seeing heart-rending stories every single day of people overdosing.”
The health department does not yet have data on the number of overdose patients visiting area hospitals or being seen by local paramedics.
Most people who die of heroin overdoses in St. Louis County are also white. According to the report, the overall death rate by race is in ratio with the county population.
Khan said his department is fighting the epidemic by offering educational initiatives and drug take-back programs. The health department also paid for the heroin overdose antidote recently placed in county police cars, and is supporting county legislation to add a prescription drug monitoring program.
Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.