DEA training agencies to investigate overdose deaths in hopes of reigning in crisis

Published: Sep. 16, 2022 at 7:24 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS (KMOV) - The fight against the fentanyl crisis in the Metro is growing.

News 4 is looking into the steps being taken to save lives across the St. Louis area. Federal, state and local authorities are working together to curb the drug’s deadly wave in the area.

DEA Special Agent in Charge of the St. Louis Division Michael Davis says there were 1,030 overdose deaths in the St. Louis Metro in 2021 and fentanyl played a massive contributor in those deaths. A News 4 analysis of data from the St. Louis City Medical Examiner’s Office showed 80 percent of the city’s overdose deaths in the last four years involved fentanyl.

“With fentanyl out there, if you are ingesting any type of illicit drug you’re gambling with your life,” Special Agent Davis says.

Special Agent Davis says the DEA is training 200 different state, county and local law enforcement agencies on how to investigate overdose deaths.

“We’re going to be training them on how to investigate overdose deaths so that we can hold these individuals accountable,” Special Agent Davis says.

The Addiction Science Team at the Missouri Institute of Mental Health tracks the number of fentanyl overdoses in St. Louis city and County. Director Rachel Winograd says there are discrepancies in the populations with the highest overdose death rates in the city.

“Black men in St. Louis City specifically, their rate of overdose deaths is 15 times higher than the national average,” Winograd says. “When you look at a statewide level, black men are more than four times as likely to die of an opioid overdose in our state than when you look at the total average of our population.”

This data on the number of fentanyl overdoses comes from the Missouri Institute of Mental Health:

St. Louis City2021First six months of 2022
Black Female6528
Black Male18390
White Female3023
White Male9243
St. Louis County2021First six months of 2022
Black Female3619
Black Male11045
White Female4722
White Male12440

When it comes to preventing more deaths, Winograd says the first step short term is implementing harm reduction strategies.

“Saturating our communities with the overdose antidote,” Winograd says. “Fentanyl test strips to see what people are putting in their bodies. More sophisticated drug checking should be on the horizon but we need legal action.”

Winograd says long term, the focus needs to be on creating a safe place in society.

“Access to affordable housing, safe housing, in areas where people want to stay and live,” Winograd says.

By training other law enforcement agencies on how to investigate these deaths, Special Agent Davis says it will help hold people accountable.

“That are delivering that fatal dose to victims around the St. Louis Metropolitan area,” Special Agent Davis says.

The DEA focuses on community outreach, educating people in the Metro on the dangers of fentanyl.

News 4′s team of journalists took a deep dive into the fentanyl crisis, which has killed thousands in the St. Louis region.

You can watch “Contaminated: The Fentanyl Crisis in St. Louis” and read stories of those who have lived it here.