OLIVETTE • Getting a grip on the region’s growing number of heroin overdose deaths will take teamwork and more, public health advocates and police said Monday.
At a news conference at the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, they took special aim at Missouri being the only state in the country without a prescription drug monitoring database and asked that more emphasis be put on prevention.
“It’s past time that we start thinking about these issues in a different way,” state Rep. Cora Faith Walker, D-Ferguson, said. “We must try to offer help instead of handcuffs.”
Walker and others, including the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration in St. Louis, described drug addiction as a mental illness and substance use disorder that needed to be treated.
More than 600 people died from heroin and other opioids in the St. Louis region in 2016, according to NCADA, up from about 500 in 2015.
The press conference was the third of its kind in as many years at NCADA. The organization runs provocative ads in local media during the Super Bowl.
The ads this year didn’t mention heroin, rather prescription drugs. Public health advocates say about 80 percent of those addicted to heroin or other opioids started out abusing pills.
“There is a vast repository of prescription opioids just sitting in medicine cabinets all throughout the region,” said Howard Weissman, executive director of the NCADA regional office here. “They are not doing any good. They pose a risk.”