Heroin is becoming more and more prevalent in Missouri, but local law enforcement officials said there has only been a minimal increase in Sedalia and Pettis County.
According to a report from the Center for Disease Control published earlier this month, “heroin use has increased across the United States among men and women, most age groups, and all income levels.” That rise includes Missouri — the Associated Press reported last week that Missouri State Highway Patrol spokesman Sgt. Shawn Griggs said MSHP seized 501 grams of heroin last year, which was down 170 grams compared to 2013, but more than four times the 104 grams the department confiscated in 2012.
However, it seems the heroin “epidemic,” as the CDC calls it, has yet to reach Pettis County. There has been a slight increase in recent years, but not near the numbers other cities are seeing.
“I won’t say it’s not here, but it’s not grown to the point we have with the meth issue,” Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond said.
Sedalia Police Department Chief John DeGonia reported the same small increase for the city.
“We’ve seen some, but not a lot here, it hasn’t made it here yet. We’re seeing just a little bit of it,” he said. “We didn’t use to see it at all, so it’s not a huge increase, but we’re seeing a little bit of it.”
According to the AP report, just 120 miles away in Springfield, the amount of heroin seized is increasing at a rapid pace. In 2011, Springfield police seized 13 grams of heroin, 22 grams in 2012, and 52 grams in 2013. In 2014, that number more than tripled, with Springfield police seizing 180 grams of heroin. That trend is expected to continue, with 288 grams already seized there this year.
For SPD, known drug dealers and users are always questioned after search warrants or arrests regarding the source of their drugs, so officers and detectives are keeping an eye on where drugs are coming from.
“We do search warrants or interview people that are known drug users and dealers; we ask where it comes from, and sometimes they tell us, sometimes they don’t,” DeGonia said. “… We look for it if we know someone is traveling from Springfield to here or Kansas City, they’ll make stops to make drop offs. We try to find out where’s it coming from, where’d you get it from — Kansas City, Springfield, St. Louis. We try to find out the avenue of where it’s coming into our community from.”
DeGonia said they’re “feeling the fall out” from legalization of marijuana in Colorado, as they’ve found marijuana from that area in Sedalia several times. It’s unknown if the same could be said for heroin coming in from other parts of Missouri.
“We hope (heroin) doesn’t come here, but right now our major drugs are meth and marijuana,” DeGonia said. “We’re feeling the fall out, we’ve even had some marijuana here from as far away as Colorado. It’s making its way across the United States from Colorado, so you never know (where drugs may come from).
“We hope it doesn’t show up here; we’re trying to rid the community of the narcotics we do have.”
Bond said most of the heroin his staff has encountered has been during traffic stops, and he said he wasn’t aware of any local medical issues regarding the drug. While he and DeGonia both said it hasn’t become a major problem in the area, his office is “preparing for it.”
According to the CDC report, “people who abuse or are dependent on prescription opioid painkillers are 40 times more likely to abuse or be dependent on heroin.”
The CDC report stated creating prescription drug monitoring programs, which track how many prescription drugs a patient has been prescribed, could help address the “heroin epidemic;” however, the AP report states Missouri is the lone state in the country without such a program.
The increase in heroin use in Springfield has caused a spike in heroin overdoses, too.
“In the first 10 years I worked here there was one heroin overdose,” Tom Van De Berg, chief investigator for the Greene County Medical Examiner’s Office, said in the AP report. “In the past few months it’s been weekly. There is a lot of it out there.”
Again, that pattern isn’t being seen in Pettis County. Coroner Robert “Skip” Smith said while most, if not all, drug overdoses in the area are due to prescription medications, he couldn’t think of any such cases “off the top of my head in the last five years.”
“In the past, we have had several but I can’t think of any right off the top of my head in the last four or five years,” he said. “Not to say it’s not a huge problem, drugs affect a lot of other things — many of the recent suicides have been drug-related, some of the homicides have been drug-related. Some car accidents have had drugs in them. It does affect other things, but I can’t say we’ve really had any deaths in the last several years from (drug overdose) outright.”
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1482 or @NicoleRCooke.