Never has heroin been more deadly nor this cheap in the St. Louis area. Purity levels have skyrocketed, while prices have plummeted on the street to $5 to $10 a button (dose), reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. A lethal new twist has flooded the market: fentanyl. The cheap synthetic opioid is 50 times stronger than the real stuff. A little bit on the tongue can kill you. A dealer with a conscience might sell fentanyl-laced heroin with a warning: “Be careful with that.” That only fuels appetites among buyers, driving much of the dramatic spike in the death toll.
More than 650 people died from opioid overdoses in the St. Louis region in 2016, more than four times the number in 2007. Toxicology results continue to come in. Suburban Franklin County had 29, an 81 percent increase in one year. Jefferson County had 62, a 35 percent jump. While heroin is a growing crisis across the region, in the city of St. Louis it is an explosive epidemic. The city logged 256 deaths, a 94 percent leap from the previous year. Annual opioid deaths have catapulted ahead of homicides. The city’s opioid death rate of 80 overdoses per 100,000 people is more than twice the rate elsewhere in the region. The typical victims are in the prime of their most productive years. The city’s death pool included 183 males, 73 females; 138 Caucasian, 117 African-American and 1 Asian. “We have a huge problem,” said Michael Graham, the city’s medical examiner.