WASHINGTON—Attorney General Eric Holder is calling the increase in heroin-related deaths an “urgent public health crisis” and says first responders should carry with them an antidote to reverse the effects of an overdose.
In a video message released Monday, Holder says addiction to opiates and heroin is affecting Americans from “every background and walk of life.”
The attorney general says the number of heroin overdose deaths rose by 45 percent between 2006 and 2010. He says federal law enforcement is working to address the problem but more work is needed on education and prevention.
He also encourages first responders to carry the drug naloxone, which can reverse a heroin overdose if administered quickly. At least 17 states and the District of Columbia allow naloxone to be distributed to the public.
Locally, Madison County authorities are trying a new approach after a spurt of heroin overdose deaths.
The county’s coroner, Steve Nonn, says his office already has handled six suspected heroin deaths this year. Last year, there were 23 in the county, more than three times the number in 2009.
Madison County Sheriff Bob Hertz recently joined the county’s top prosecutor, Tom Gibbons, to convene a panel to talk out possible answers to the problem. The group included substance-abuse treatment providers, educators and perhaps addicts.
Police continue to investigate three apparent overdose deaths that happened in the county last month.
According to the coroner, the victims were discovered dead in their homes with evidence of drug use or paraphernalia.
Katie Heavey, 29, was found by her father at her home in the 100 block of Skyline View Drive in Collinsville on Feb. 13. Police said they found drug paraphernalia at the scene
Roxana police said Dearold Oseland, 38, was discovered dead by his girlfriend at his home in the 200 block of Elm Street just after midnight on Feb. 14 Friday. Drug paraphernalia was also found at the scene. His autopsy was inconclusive and toxicology tests were still pending.
A couple hours later, Granite City police said Paul Simpson, 40, was pronounced dead at his home in the 2500 block of Grand Avenue. Police said evidence of drug use was found at the home of Simpson, who they say had a history of drug abuse.
News 4 Investigates’ Craig Cheatham has more on the dramatic impact the drug is having in the Saint Louis area. Click the video player to see his full report.