Opioid abuse is much more prevalent in the area, but local law enforcement officials say meth use has not gone away.
According to Washington Police Detective Sgt. Steve Sitzes, methamphetamine use never stopped, and there is a 50/50 split between meth and heroin arrests.
He added there is a generational divide among those arrested for drug possession.
“The younger people want the heroin, the older people want the meth,” Sitzes said.
While there still are meth possession arrests, making meth has been curtailed.
“It has to be manufactured and that is nearly impossible,” said Maj. T.J. Wild with the Franklin County Sheriff’s office.
He commented that heroin now is cheaper to buy than meth due to the availability and cost.
Many addicts who had been using meth now use heroin because it is “the next best thing.”
According to Sitzes, it is rare to see homemade meth in the area.
“The local meth has gone to the wayside — meth labs, things like that,” he said. “Now we have this imported Mexican crystallized methamphetamine. It used to be all over the West Coast, but now we’re seeing more of it here rather than the homemade stuff. The purity is better.”
Union Police Chief Norman Brune said there has been a recent increase in meth use.
“Our major problem is still the opioid, but we are seeing an increase in meth,” he said. “This is based on arrests and lab analysis. We’re seeing an uptick in methamphetamine again.”
He added some drug addicts use meth and heroin together.
“Believe it or not, people are using it in conjunction with heroin,” he said. “The meth we’re seeing is not homemade meth, so we’re not dealing with meth labs.”
According to Brune, officers have been encountering “ice,” the street name of a pure form of meth out of Mexico.
While many label opioid as simply heroin, generally addicts use a cocktail of drugs.
“It’s more appropriate to call it an opioid because a lot of times it’s fentanyl or a synthetic opioid of some type,” Brune said.
“It’s being used as heroin, but we’re seeing a lot of different stuff taking the place of heroin,” he added. “The synthetics are probably cheaper.”
Over the last several years, the U.S. has been flooded with large quantities of heroin smuggled here from Mexico, which in turn has driven down the price on the street.
Increasing demand for the drug and a growing number of users are fueling the epidemic.
In the past, users and dealers in Franklin County would travel to St. Louis to purchase the drug and bring it back here to sell.
In many cases, heroin users started out abusing prescription opioid medications and became addicted. When they no longer can get the prescription drugs, they resort to heroin, which is cheaper and more available.
Much of the heroin used locally is laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is hundreds of times stronger than heroin.
An even more potent opioid, carfentanil, was confiscated in the St. Louis metro area in April.
Sheriff Steve Pelton said carfentanil has not been confiscated in Franklin County, yet.
“We think it is just a matter of time before we see it here,” he said.
Local law enforcement officers have been training to use Narcan since January. Narcan is a lif-saving drug that blocks the effects of opioid and reverses an overdose.
It has become increasingly important for officers to be trained in the use of Narcan due to the rise in fentanyl-laced heroin.
Narcan has become more readily available, which has prevented many more fatal overdose cases. Narcan is available over the counter in Missouri. It is a nasal spray that is administered in each nostril during an overdose.
Once officers are trained they are given two doses of Narcan to carry on their uniforms.
According to Pelton, in rural areas there are times when officers can be on the scene of an overdose before an ambulance crew, which already is equipped with Narcan.
That means that law enforcement officers also can help save a life following an overdose.
By Gregg Jones | Missourian
Missourian staff writer Joe Barker and Union Editor Karen Butterfield contributed to this story