A top agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency says St. Louis is among the hot spots nationally in a growing fight against heroin. Michael Kress, a supervisory special agent with the DEA, says the drug is flourishing here thanks to an entrenched network of drug dealers in the St. Louis area.
The St. Louis metropolitan area seems to be really getting hit hard, he said in an interview Wednesday. Heroin trafficking organizations in this area, the St. Louis area, are bringing in higher quantities and purities of the heroin.
And thats where the economics of this heroin explosion begin. Because the heroin coming here is so pure, it doesnt have to be injected to get the desired high. Removing needles removes some of the stigma from this very dangerous drug.
They can snort it and not have to inject it and it makes it more attractive for the user to use and they get the full effect when theyre snorting it, Kress said.
He was speaking at a seminar in Edwardsville aimed at training law enforcement in handling drug overdose investigations.
The subject matter is timely for a number of reasons. In Illinois, the U.S. Attorney has launched a program aimed at finding and charging drug dealers who provide the narcotics that lead to overdose deaths. A federal statute allows for a dealer to be held responsible in connection with the death for simply providing the drug. No intent has to be proven.
Madison County States attorney Thomas Gibbons says that move, and what he describes as a heroin epidemic, have combined to put heroin at the top of his list of priorities.
Its extremely high. We see this is a priority on our community. We want to send out the alert to parents to schools, he told us. I dont think I can overstate the seriousness of this epidemic that is confronting us.
Madison County Coroner Stephen Nonn is leading the charge to attack the problem in Illinois. In 2009, nine people died from heroin overdoses in Madison County. Last year that number doubled, to 18. In 2011, only three months in, nine more people are already dead from the drug. And theres no stereotyping who the victims are.
Youve got teenagers, Nonn said. Youve got middle aged. Youve got older people. Black. White. Inner city. Rural. This thing is cutting across all levels of social economic class. There is nobody that is immune.
Kress from the DEA calls this heroin outbreak a standout even in his more than two decades with the agency.
Its a widespread thing, he said. Its very scary.