St. Louis County sees decline in drug-related deaths

Published: Aug. 2, 2023 at 5:19 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS COUNTY (KMOV) -- St. Louis County reported a nearly 11% decrease in drug-related deaths last year, making it the biggest year-to-year drop in almost a decade.

“While the numbers are going down in St. Louis County, the numbers remain way too high for us to do any kind of celebrating,” St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said. “I appreciate the work of the Department of Public Health and our community partners, who continue to build on prevention and treatment programs and education. We will have more to announce on our efforts at the end of the month as we observe International Overdose Awareness Day.”

There were 448 drug-involved deaths in the county in 2022 compared to 501 in 2021. St. Louis City saw an 8% increase in 2022 with 489 deaths compared to 452 the year before.

When he was only 22 years old, Ellis and Patti Fitzwalter’s son Michael died after a drug overdose.

“It’s probably about the worst nightmare that a parent can have,” Patti said.

“That’s why we do now what we do to try to prevent other people from living that same nightmare,” Ellis said.

The Fitzwalters say for years Michael struggled with addiction, starting with Xanax before turning to heroin.

“I came home and I found his lifeless body,” Patti said.

Since Michael’s 2014 death, the Fitzwalters have made it their mission to raise awareness and educate people around substance abuse to help break down the stigma.

“We were part of the problem when we first lost Michael because of the stigma,” Ellis said. “It was probably a year, year and a half before we even talked to our family about what really had happened.”

“There’s a lot we didn’t know back then that we know now and if we had known everything we know now then, things may have been different for us,” Patti said.

PreventEd Executive Director Nichole Dawsey says there isn’t one main factor behind this decrease in drug-related deaths.

Dawsey tells News 4 that increased access to Narcan/naloxone and breaking down the stigma around addiction is helping.

“The field has really understood the need to go into community and that’s neighborhood by neighborhood,” Dawsey said. “Every neighborhood is different. We can’t assume that a one-size-fits-all approach is going to work.”

Although the numbers are down, Dawsey wants to see numbers continue to drop across the Metro.

“We need to make sure that we’re focused on emerging threats as well,” Dawsey said. “So often in public health, we are certainly guilty of this, we’re paying attention to the thing that is and not the thing that’s coming. Now thinking through what is the next thing.”

The Fitzwalters are urging people to talk to their loved ones and listen to those in need.

“We’re seeing now a lot of focus on the fentanyl, as we should because that’s what’s driving the force right now,” Ellis said. “But we need to get to the root of the problem and try to work on that.”

Dawsey says it’s important to talk to your kids about this.

There are resources that break down age-appropriate topics all the way from Pre-K to college-aged kids.

For more information, click here.