With heroin use on the rise amongst suburban youth, authorities and school officials are looking to stay ahead the curve when it comes to educating the public about the dangers of drug abuse.
That's why the Heroin Awareness Campaign, a series of town hall forums designed to inform the community about proactively confronting heroin and prescription painkiller use by St. Louis-area teens, made a stop at Holt High School Tuesday evening.
More than 200 area residents attended the meeting, including representatives from nearly every law enforcement agency in St. Charles County.
According to the St. Charles County Sheriff's Department, heroin accounted for 18 deaths throughout the county in 2011. That figure more than doubled the 2007 death toll of seven. That number is again set to rise as this year, four heroin-caused deaths have already been reported.
Quality of drugs is one factor for the increase in deaths. Sergeant Matt Bergens of the St. Charles County Regional Drug Task Force, said heroin in 2001 was 13 percent pure on average. In 2010, that rate spiked to 38 percent pure—and 15 percent of that figure was more than 75 percent pure.
"We have a drug problem; we've had one for years," said St. Charles County Sheriff Tom Neer. "We've put manpower and money into this battle and have had some successes and some failures. Right now, I'm of the opinion that we are losing the battle against heroin."
Tuesday's forum took aim at assisting in that battle by enabling parents and members of the public.
"We tend to want to think that people that are having problems with drugs are those people over there, but the truth is that it is something that is throughout our society," said Dan Duncan, director of community services for the St. Louis-area National Council of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. "When you think of heroin in the past, you usually heard about it being confined to poor urban neighborhoods and older people. That has completely changed. The profile of the average heroin user has gone young, suburban and rural."
Duncan said most users and addicts are introduced to heroin after becoming dependent on subscription pain killers or prescribed medications. Tobacco use, he said, is another common gateway into drug use.
But the fight against addiction is not hopeless, Duncan said. Four keys remain integral: increased vigilance and awareness by parents; stronger prevention efforts in schools; more quality treatment; and an ever-watchful law enforcement.
Above all, it's imperative that family and friends be able to recognize the signs of addiction and be able to act.
Michael Morrison, CEO of Bridgeway Behavioral Health and a former heroin addict himself, said treatment such as rehab or detox still has barriers such as public stigma, denial and fear—and not just for the addict.
"It's hard for families to admit they have an addict in the family," Morrison said. "But denying it is a killer. Everyday you wait is another day they will keep using."
For a list of upcoming town hall forums, CLICK HERE.
To visit the Bridgeway Behavioral Health website, CLICK HERE.
To visit the National Council of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse website, CLICK HERE.
For the Heroin Awareness Campaign website, CLICK HERE.