Heroin's on the rise. How does this increase impact St. Louis, Missouri?

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, heroin use is up 39%. The number of people dying after abusing drugs is higher than the number of people killed in traffic accidents. About half of all drug overdose deaths are related to the abuse of prescription drugs. The type of drugs people abuse most are painkillers derived from morphine which is the same active ingredient in heroin. Due to efforts to stop prescription drug abuse many people have turned to heroin, which gives users a similar high. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse almost half of young people who use heroin today started with morphine based painkillers.  

What’s going on in St. Louis?

In the St. Louis region more people are using heroin, and more are dying because of it. According to the National Council of Alcohol and Drug Abuse (NCADA), St. Louis County has seen a 90 percentage increase in heroin related deaths since 2007; in 2014 heroin killed 400 people. In 2015 St. Anthony’s Medical Center saw four heroin overdoses in less than an hour in Jefferson County. With hundreds of people in the St. Louis region dying each year from heroin overdoses and abuse rising amongst young people in this region, what can we do to change this big problem?

Various organizations are trying to raise awareness about heroin use.  The St. Louis County Police Department launched a new education initiative to raise public awareness. The St. Louis based organization NCADA debuted a chilling commercial about heroin deaths during the halftime of the Super Bowl.

Who is using heroin and where do they live?

The Journal of the American Medical Association states that the typical heroin addict is 23, lives in an affluent suburb and was likely unwittingly led to heroin through painkillers prescribed by a doctor.

The 2013 Medical Examiner’s (ME) Report identified that St. Louis City, St. Louis, Franklin, Jefferson and St. Charles Counties were impacted by heroin. Twenty-six percent of fatalities were younger than 30 and 70 percent were Caucasian. Also in 2013, 61 percent of heroin treatment admissions were younger than 35 and 20 percent were younger than 25. Access to heroin is reported in St. Louis County schools, something that was not seen until 2011.

How can you help?

Recognizing signs and symptoms of heroin use and being aware of community resources are important ways community members can get involved. The information provided below might be helpful to you.

Symptoms and signs to look for:

  • Depression
  • Euphoria
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Hostility toward others
  • Agitation and irritability
  • Avoiding loved ones
  • Slurred, garbled speech
  • Wearing long pants and shirts even in warm weather
  • Track marks on arms and legs
  • Lack of Motivation

These intervention and support resources may help you assist a friend or family member with a substance abuse problem. Download it here


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Journal of the American Medical Association, National Institute on Drug Abuse, DrugAbuse.Gov

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