Heroin’s Growing Presence in Rural Missouri


KOLR10 wants to share a Courageous Conversation this morning, about the growing epidemic of heroin in large cities in Missouri. That’s where use is steadily on the rise.  The drug is less prevalent — in some cases nonexistent — in smaller communities. But KOLR10’s Grant Sloan has learned there is concern in rural areas of the Ozarks that could soon change… especially across the state line.

DOUGLAS COUNTY, Mo. – If Missouri has a haven for heroin it would be in the St. Louis Metro; in 2011, 90-percent of the state’s heroin-related deaths occurred in that area, according to Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services.

But in the state’s more rural areas, like those in Douglas County, the drug problem law enforcement faces each day is one they’ve been battling for years.

“The main problem that we face here is the methamphetamine,” says Douglas County Sheriff, Chris Degase. “We’re not seeing the heroin problem, as of yet.”

Degase says the void left following the state’s crackdown on pseudoephedrine and meth labs  has been filled by drug cartel in Mexico.

“Since it’s so accessible we are seeing the price be a lot cheaper,” he says. “The information we’re getting now is [meth users are] paying half of what they were paying two years ago.”

It’s a problem shared across the state line, but if meth is number one in rural Arkansas prescription pills are a close number two.

The “Natural State” has the highest prescription drug abuse rate amongst teens in the nation.

“It’s a big concern of myself and all the others in the law enforcement community that heroin is going to take over,” says Baxter County, Arkansas Sheriff, John Montgomery.

“It’s a much less expensive drug to purchase, and of course, that’s what the appeal is,” he says.

Data from the Arkansas Crime Information Center shows many rural counties in Arkansas having zero heroin-related arrests as recently as 2014.

But Montgomery, who is also the president of the Arkansas Sheriff’s Association, says the shift from pills to heroin may already be happening.

“I’ve seen more heroin, and talked about heroin more, in the last 12-months than in my 25-year career,” Montgomery says.

When drug-related arrests are made they are accompanied by assaults, thefts or burglaries more times than not, Montgomery says.

Which, in turn, blurs the line between choosing to get the assailant treatment or locking them up in an already crowded jail.

“Our feeling is that we need to work harder on the front end,” he says, “for those that have drug abuse to help them kick that habit. But at the same time, maybe be harder on those repeat offenders.”

It’s a dilemma shared by law enforcement in rural Missouri – with meth today and possibly heroin tomorrow.

“I think it’s inevitable we’re going to see it,” says Degase.

“We saw it a couple years ago in Pulaski county and it’s moved closer and closer,” he says. “We’re hoping that we don’t [see it.]”

See all of our Quiet Epidemic stories here.

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