CLAYTON (AP) - St. Louis County has seen a significant drop in the number of deaths due to heroin overdoses.
The Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis reported that county had 25 deaths for the first six months of 2012, down from 39 during the same period in 2011.
Police are cautiously hopeful that a series of public meetings have helped lower the number. They are especially encouraged by a huge drop in the 18-24-year-old demographic. There were 18 deaths in that age group in the first six months of last year, and just one so far in 2012.
"We were especially targeting that group because that's the age where it's so easy to become addicted," said Capt. Chuck Boschert, commander of the St. Louis County Police Department's Bureau of Drug Enforcement.
Missouri has long been known for its methamphetamine problem, but heroin use has grown in recent years, especially in the St. Louis suburbs. The drug is far more potent than in the past, meaning users can snort or smoke it instead of inject.
But that increased potency also makes it potentially deadly.
"Drugs go in and out of style," Boschert said. "It can be Ecstasy one year and meth the next. Just like anything else, heroin goes in cycles."
St. Louis County heroin deaths had spiked to 60 in 2010 and 91 last year. By comparison, there were 10 countywide heroin deaths in 2000.
Last year, county police joined representatives from the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse-St. Louis Area and the St. Louis County Children's Service Fund for six public meetings at high schools. Among the speakers were parents who have lost children to heroin overdoses.
Dan Duncan, the director of NCADA Community Services, said it is hard to say how much impact the meetings had, "but I have to believe that the town hall meetings had some kind of impact. The parents who talked about losing their children were very effective. The media also was good about getting the word out."
The public meetings are going to start again with one scheduled for September at Chaminade High School.