The number of overdoses reported to the Multi-County Narcotics and Violent Crimes Enforcement Unit dropped in 2017 compared to the previous year.
The task force investigated 39 overdoses last year. Of those, 13 were fatal. There were 26 that did not result in death.
During 2016, the task force investigated a total of 56 overdose cases, including 26 that resulted in deaths and 30 nonfatal overdoses.
The task force covers Franklin, Lincoln and Reynolds counties, as well as the city of Bourbon.
There were 15 overdoses in Franklin County, including three fatal, according to information compiled by the crime unit.
“There was a drop in the county and some of that is due to awareness,” Sheriff Steve Pelton said.
Narcotics unit Cmdr. Lt. Scott Reed said the number indicates a leveling off of heroin use.
“It seems like it may have stabilized some,” he told The Missourian.
Fueling the problem is the easy availability of heroin flooding into the U.S. from other countries, mainly Mexico.
The other factor is the high demand for the drug from citizens, many who got hooked on prescription opioid medications, then switched to heroin, which is cheaper and easier to get.
Reed added that the purity of heroin has been constant, about 90-95 percent, but the drug is mixed with stronger drugs which is a factor in overdoses.
“It is cut with different drugs like fentanyl and U-47700 and that compounds it, making it worse,” Reed said.
U-47700, also called pink, is a designer drug that has been linked to as many as 46 deaths between 2015-16, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency
U-47700 is about eight times stronger than morphine. It is often mixed with fentanyl, which is 50 times more potent than heroin. The drug is believed to have contributed to an overdose of a St. Clair couple last year.
Fentanyl-laced heroin is much more common, authorities said. In 2017, fentanyl was listed as the cause of death on the death certificates of 13 county residents.
According to Kathleen Diebold Hargrave, St. Charles, Jefferson and Franklin County’s medical examiner office’s chief investigator classifies all but one of the deaths from fentanyl as accidental, with the one remaining listed as undetermined.
The biggest spike in deaths was in March with four. January, May and September had two fentanyl-related deaths and April, July and October had one death each.
Tougher on Dealers
Reed added that the U.S. Attorney General’s office and the St. Louis U.S. district attorney will be more aggressively prosecuting heroin dealers.
Heroin that reaches Franklin County comes from St. Louis.
“They will more strongly be going after heroin dealers, especially in the cases where the drug causes bodily harm or death,” Reed said. “That’s good news for us considering where the (local) heroin is coming from.”
Pelton added that people should immediately seek help for friends and family who they suspect are using heroin.
“Get involved and get the resources you need to help,” he said. “Lives literally depend on it.”
There were 513 cases investigated by the Multi-County Narcotics and Violent Crimes Enforcement Unit in the three-county area and in Bourbon. Some of that is due to the resurgence of methamphetamine, according to Reed.
Methamphetamine also leads to other crimes.
“Meth has been fueling the burglaries and home invasions,” Reed commented.
There was an increase of 19 burglaries in Franklin County last year, 318, compared to 2016 when there were 299.
There also was a notable increase in stealing reports last year, and law enforcement officials suspect is driven by drug use as well.
There was an approximate 8 percent jump in stealing reports in 2017 when there were 860. There were 788 stealing reports in 2016.
Most of the cases involve “crystal meth” that is coming across the U.S. border from Mexico, then through Texas and Oklahoma before reaching this area. Authorities also are seeing a rise in cocaine.