For the first time ever, opioids are killing more people in Franklin County than vehicle crashes.
As of the beginning of November, the Multi-County Narcotics Task Force has investigated 15 deaths related to opiates and 21 additional nonfatal opioid overdoses.
During the same period of time the Missouri Department of Transportation reports 13 fatal traffic crashes countywide.
Sheriff Steve Pelton said the only way to reduce these numbers is to take a strong law enforcement stance and get families and the community involved.
“Since Jan. 1, we’ve had 36 overdoses,” Pelton said. “Fifteen were fatal and 21 were nondeaths. We are administering Narcan about once a month.”
In addition to overdoses, cases of possession, stealing and theft are on the rise in the county as drug users are committing more crimes to support their habits.
Pelton said the ultimate goal of law enforcement is to save lives and his deputies can’t do it alone.
“Heroin is killing people,” Pelton said. “If you see something, say something, even if it means getting law enforcement involved. Rock bottom is different for everybody. We want to see people survive these addictions.”
Pelton added heroin laced with fentanyl is the No. 1 drug his deputies are seeing on the streets right now and it is also the deadliest.
“Some of the overdoses we see are first-time users,” Pelton said. “And others are longtime users but the amount they need gets larger and larger. They are buying and using this stuff and they have no idea what’s in it or how strong it is.”
The reported deaths have come from all corners of the county with 60 percent of the deaths occurring in Washington, Union and St. Clair.
St. Clair Police Chief Bill Hammack says his department has responded to 20 opioid-related overdoses in 2017 with three fatalities.
Union Police Chief Norman Brune reports 25 opiate overdoses, also with three fatalities.
Washington Detective Sgt. Steve Sitzes also reported three opiate-related deaths, but because of their call recording system they could not give the total overdose responses.
Pacific Police Chief Matt Mansell says his officers have prevented the death of four heroin overdose victims in the past month with the new medication Narcan.
According to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, between 2012 and 2016, 104 Franklin County residents died as a result of opiate overdoses.
The DHSS also reports 1,152 visits to emergency rooms in Franklin County due to opiate misuse between 2011 and 2015.
As drug deaths increase, the number of fatal traffic crashes has actually decreased to 13 so far this year.
There were 17 fatal traffic crashes in 2016.
Pelton said although the holiday and winter season are a busy time for crashes, he feels fatal crashes won’t surpass the opiate deaths, which could still increase as well.
According to the latest three-year data from MoDOT, Franklin County ranks 11th out of 114 counties in Missouri for fatal crashes.
In 2017, neighboring Jefferson County has recorded 33 fatal crashes, St. Louis County has 72 and Warren County has only two with five weeks left in the year.
With traffic tickets increasing by 443 in 2017, deputies are focusing on hazard mitigating violations like excessive speeds and impaired drivers to limit the potential for fatalities.
Another rising area of concern and citations is for distracted drivers and their use of technology while driving.
Unfortunately, Pelton said there is really no specific geographic area where crashes occur and nothing law enforcement can do to eliminate them 100 percent.
Thus far in 2017 there have been 763 fatal crashes in the state of Missouri and there were 812 total for 2016.
As of the end of August, DHSS has recorded 733 opiate deaths statewide with 908 total last year.
One out of every 66 deaths statewide was attributed to opioid-involved overdose.
Of these overdose deaths, 92.7 percent were accidental; the other 7.3 percent were classified as suicide.
“Missouri is right in the middle, ranked 26th,” Pelton said. “Until we can get a hold on this crisis across the nation, it is going to be a problem.”