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'With You STL' Shows DEA Focus On Outreach, Opioid Crisis

Inez Davis, Bill Callahan
DEA St. Louis Division

More often than not, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is associated with tracking drug cartels and arresting traffickers. But the law enforcement agency also ensures physicians and pharmacists are following the law with regard to prescriptions, a role that has become more critical as well as more challenging in recent months.

And in the DEA’s St. Louis Division, the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted more focus on community outreach, even as the opioid crisis continues to ravage the country. Earlier this month, the St. Louis County Department of Health reported a 47% increase in opioid-related deaths among Black men in 2019.

This spring, the division launched the website With You STL in an effort to help connect community members with critical resources for prevention, treatment and recovery. 

Special Agent in Charge Bill Callahan, who began leading the division about two years ago, describes community outreach and advocacy as key pillars alongside his team’s more traditional enforcement efforts.

“We have recognized that the enforcement piece alone is not gonna do it,” he told St. Louis on the Air.

This other side of the DEA often surprises people, noted Inez Davis, the division’s diversion program manager.

“Yes, we are a law enforcement agency, but we are out there in the community, making them aware of the opioid problem, making them aware of avenues they have to seek treatment,” she said.

On Tuesday’s show, Davis and Callahan joined host Sarah Fenske to share more about these lesser-known elements of the DEA’s work.


The conversation also included comments from representatives of two local treatment and prevention organizations working with the DEA on its With You STL initiative.

Jim Wallis of Chestnut Health Systems said he sees the DEA’s partnership as “another critical component” in the efforts to combat the opioid crisis.

“I had the opportunity to first meet [Callahan] last fall, and his approach in terms of collaboration with prevention organizations and treatment organizations I feel is that three-pronged approach,” Wallis said.

“[With] law enforcement, prevention and treatment working together, we can make a bigger splash. We can save more lives as opposed to working independently and at some times tripping over each other. ... And I think that is something that moving forward is going to make a big positive impact in the community.”

Art Deno of the local nonprofit ACPD added that while the DEA’s involvement on this front might surprise people, it makes sense to him.

“[The DEA is] saying, ‘Hey, enough’s enough, it’s not just about reporting the drug trafficking, and taking dealers off the street and reporting all that.’ They’re tired of seeing it too,” explained Deno, whose organization is named for his late son Austin Christopher Paul Deno. “And so for them to do what they’re doing [and] setting up that site and everything, and [helping] us out any way that they can, I can’t say enough. It’s just been tremendous, the support that we’ve had from them.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Evie is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.