U.S. News & World Report recently highlighted the troubling degree to which St. Louis has been impacted by opioids, including heroin, asserting: “As Missouri struggles with the epidemic of opioid abuse, no place in the state has been hit harder than St. Louis.”
This begs the question, why is St. Louis suffering so badly? Here’s a closer look at this multifactored situation and its complex causes.
Understanding the Issue
Roughly 90 percent of all of Missouri’s heroin overdose deaths in recent years have occurred in St. Louis and its surrounding counties, according to FloValley News.
Public Awareness Specialist for the St. Louis affiliate of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse (NCADA) Jared Opsal explains:
“We started looking at the statistics, really tracking this in 2008 to 2009. It was based on information from hospitals, treatment facilities, and police arrests. It just started gradually going up, and with it, the number of deaths. Ever since, there has been no plateau.”
Location: a Natural Market for Heroin
Unfortunately, its location makes St. Louis a natural market that encourages the growth of the heroin epidemic. Opsal continues:
“The drug cartels are flooding the United States with millions of dollars worth of heroin. They are sending so much that it is hard to stop it. It’s hidden under trucks, in gas tanks, inside hollowed out wheels and fake compartments inside motors. If they lose a few shipments to the authorities, no big deal, just the cost of doing business to them. It is coming north out of Mexico into Chicago, and then from that major distribution center down the highway systems to the Midwest. St. Louis, being easily accessible to major highways such as 40/64, 44, and 55 is a natural market, due to its high concentration of population.”
The Prevalence of Prescriptions
But it’s not just the easy location and corresponding affordability. After all, most people don’t leap straight from sobriety to heroin use. Enter prescription drugs. According to Opsal, a whopping 80 percent of people who use heroin begin with prescription drug abuse—many of them kids who are dipping into their parents’ legal prescriptions. Others are finding their way to heroin from other “gateway” drugs, including everything from cigarettes to alcohol to pot.
Even more alarming? Along with an increase in heroin use goes a decrease in the age of users with as many as 70 percent of heroin users in the age range between 18 and 35. This is especially problematic when you consider the consequences of early use.
“The earlier a person starts using, the more chance they have of addiction, due to brain susceptibility. For example, from ages 12–15, a person using drugs has a 6.5 higher chance of addiction than someone starting in the age group of 16–21, which goes down to 4.0. Still, the earlier one starts, the harder it is to stop,” proposes Opsal.
The rise of fentanyl, a particularly potent and often lethal opioid, has only exacerbated the problem. While 56 percent of opioid overdoses involved fentanyl in 2017, this number spiked to 84 percent in 2017.
Reversing the Problem
While educating community members about the dangers of heroin is important, experts say it should be handled like all communicable diseases, via treatment. Says St. Louis Join Board of Health and Hospital chair Dr. Will Ross, “We need to interrupt the habits, the enablers, the structures that perpetuate the epidemic.”
We’re Here to Help
Enter St. Louis drug rehab treatment program Harris House. Serving the substance abuse community for more than 50 years, Harris House offers hope for the seemingly hopeless. Says St. Louis City Department of Health director Melba Moore, “It’s not like we’re turning a deaf ear. We need more people. We need more action.” If you’re ready to get potentially life-saving help for yourself or someone else, call us at Harris House to learn about admissions.