St. Louis County to Tailor Responses to Opioid-Related Deaths as Cases Rise Among Black Men While Dropping Among Overall Population

ST. LOUIS COUNTY (STL.News) Today, the St. Louis County Department of Public Health released new statistics that show a 13 percent decrease in the number of opioid-related deaths in 2019 compared to the previous year.

Last year, 266 people died because of opioids, compared with 307 in 2018.  This was the first year since 2012 in which the number of deaths has gone down.  Fully, 90 percent of 2019’s opioid deaths involved fentanyl, a synthetic opioid much more powerful than heroin.

While the overall drop in deaths is good news, there’s a troubling trend within that number.  Deaths of black males from opioid use jumped 47 percent in 2019 compared with 2018.  Black males were the only group to experience an increase in opioid related deaths in 2019.  This highlights the widening disparity in opioid-related deaths and indicates the need for unique, tailored responses.

“The dramatic jump in opioid-related deaths of African American men is alarming,” said County Executive Dr. Sam Page.  “The Department of Public Health is aggressively working on its outreach to our high-risk communities including providing access to Narcan and an education campaign on how to get help.  We are committed to doing all we can to fight this epidemic.”

While it’s too early to assess trends so far this year, there is concern that social isolation forced by the coronavirus pandemic is particularly dangerous for anyone who misuses opioids.  People who might otherwise use opioids with others may now use them alone, increasing the risk of overdose and death before help can be summoned.

Among the DPH programs that address racial disparities in opioid-related deaths is the Anyone Can public awareness campaign, which stresses that anyone can get help for a friend or loved one.  The campaign spotlights true stories of real St. Louis area residents and how addiction has affected them.  Diverse community voices are highlighted, and ad placement has been concentrated in north St. Louis County.  For more information, visit anyonecanstl.org.

The county provides free doses of Narcan, the medication that reverses opioid overdoses, at its three public health clinics, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.  For more information, visit www.recoverstl.com

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