First responders in West St. Louis County are coming together for one goal – to fight the heroin epidemic.
The West St. Louis County Heroin Task Force is made up of several fire departments in the area: Metro West, Monarch, Eureka, West County, Valley Park, Fenton and Kirkwood. It also includes the law enforcement agencies inside those areas, as well as the school districts and other community partners.
“We’re trying to connect all of those dots and maximizing the effort,” said Mike Thiemann, with the Metro West Fire Protection District.
Any time paramedics respond to a heroin overdose, they fill out an online form, with information about the age of the person who overdosed, the city in which the incident happened and the zip code of where the overdose took place. This information is immediately shared with the other agencies in the task force. In the past, it used to take months to collect and share this type of data.
“This information is helpful to us in that we can respond better, we can be more prepared, our paramedics, our police officers and all of those working in that footprint are better prepared to deal with it,” Thiemann said.
First responders can also use the data to spot any trends. For example, there might be a spike in overdoses within a certain age group in a certain zip code.
“When you see a screen with a map and it has dots of where people are overdosing, it’s hard to deny it’s in West County,” said Amy Weiland, an addiction counselor with The Crossroads Program. She is also on the task force.
Weiland said the key to battling the heroin epidemic is getting the entire community engaged and educated.
“What we want to do is break through the denial as much as we can and show people that there’s help,” Weiland said.