CLAYTON, Mo. (AP) - Heroin deaths continue to spike in many areas of the country so far this year, but St. Louis County is bucking the trend.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/ICoG7R ) reported Wednesday that the county has reported 14 deaths from heroin through April 10, a big drop from 32 deaths in the same period of 2011.
Officials believe a strong public awareness campaign has made a difference. St. Louis County Police frequently hold town hall meetings at high schools and are involved in other outreach efforts.
St. Louis city and St. Charles, Jefferson and Franklin counties may be on pace for more heroin deaths this year compared to last. The same is true for Madison County, Ill.
Rheba Killingsworth gasped and wept with joy when she learned that St. Louis County heroin deaths were down 56 percent so far this year. Public discussion of her daughter's struggle with heroin addiction was getting some of the credit.
"We never imagined that it would have this much of an impact, but we are grateful that it has," Killingsworth said.
Wes Tobin, program director at the Harris House, a nonprofit rehabilitation center in St. Louis, said patient admissions and phone calls regarding heroin are down too.
"I think it's due to the publicity and town hall meetings, because maybe young people aren't trying opiates like they did in the past and recognizing that, "Yes, this is a very dangerous drug,"' Tobin said.
St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch was instrumental in developing a three-pronged approach of education, treatment and enforcement, working with nonprofit agencies and other groups.
"Families are now learning to recognize the signs and the symptoms and know there are treatment options out there ... I'm not ready to declare victory, but it's certainly progress," Fitch said.
Now, county police assign a narcotics detective to every drug-related suspect to try to trace the supplier. Officers also provide information about treatment options for heroin users. Heroin-related arrests in the county are at about the same level as last year, he said, with about 100 for the first four months of this year compared to about 105 at the same time in 2011.
Meanwhile, across the Mississippi River, prosecutions of heroin-related felonies have increased 17 percent over last year in Madison County, Ill.
As for Meredith Killingsworth, Rheba Killingsworth's 24-year-old daughter, she was terminated from a drug court program and has been in prison since November 2011. She is expected to be released later this year. Her parents have adopted her 3-year-old son and have moved away from the St. Louis area.
Rheba Killingsworth said she is "hopeful" her daughter will stay sober after her release.
Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com