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Heroin a Growing Problem in St. Louis County

St. Louis County Police and drug treatment professionals were in Maryland Heights to talk about heroin's dangers Thursday night.

St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch once talked with a young woman arrested for buying heroin. She was from Ballwin, and told Finch she got hooked because she was battling depression.

The first time she tried it, according to Fitch, she got a high that she hasn’t been able to achieve since. According to a heroin addiction website, one of the drug's most insidious qualities is that is sends the addict on a quest to repeat that first high, usually a fruitless journey.

Heroin addiction isn’t a light switch you can turn off and on, Fitch told a crowded audience at night.

Fitch was part of a public forum about heroin use among teens. The forum featured St. Louis County Police, the National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse — St. Louis Area (NCADA-St. Louis) and the St. Louis County Children’s Service Fund .

The Pattonville High auditorium was crowded with residents concerned with the problem. Audience members submitted questions via note cards at the program’s end. The night’s speakers answered questions on the D.A.R.E. program’s effectiveness, alcohol and tobacco advertising and other topics.

A growing, deadly epidemic

Heroin is a synthetic opiate, presenters told the audience, known commonly on the St. Louis streets as “buttons” or “beans.” Users can get high by snorting the drug, smoking it, or injecting into a vein.

St. Louis County is on track to double its number of heroin deaths this year compared with 2010. The county saw 60 heroin related deaths last year. 

Lt. Chuck Boschert, commander of the St. Louis County Police drug unit, said the county had 35 heroin-related deaths between January and April 2011.

Part of the heroin problem could be as close as a medicine cabinet. Dan Duncan, director of community services for NCADA-St. Louis, said between 50 and 60 percent of heroin users started with prescription pain killers. 

Chemical changes

Kate Tansey, executive director for the St. Louis County Children’s Service Fund, told the audience that heroin affects both the mind and the body. The human brain, she said, makes its own opiates naturally. These chemicals let us feel pleasure and pain, she said. Opiates like heroin cause the brain to stop producing these chemicals.

Duncan gave a list of signs parents can look for that suggest opiate use. 

  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Nodding off, oversleeping and lethargy
  • Easily irritated or depressed
  • Withdrawl from sports, hobbies, friends
  • Grades decline, change in peers
  • Things/money disappearing
  • Secretive change in hygiene
  • Long sleeves during summer

Getting help

Patch reported previously that .

  • St. Louis: 1-314-830-3232
  • St. Charles: 1-636-697-8406
  • Metro East: 1-618-398-9409

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