Paramedic: 'More times they are mad at us for killing their high than saving their life'

News-DemocratSeptember 18, 2011 

Linda Chilton found her grandson lying on the floor of her bathroom the night of Feb. 24, 2010.

It looked like Jay Kyle Pauley had just fallen off the toilet. Chilton tried to pat him on his bare rear end to wake him up.

He was gone.

"Apparently, he just shut down," Chilton said.

Pauley died that night of a heroin overdose. He was 22. He began struggling with drugs when he was 14.

Pauley was one of 52 Granite City residents to die of drug or alcohol overdoses between 2006 and 2010, according to Madison County coroner files. The blue-collar town had more overdose deaths than any other city in St. Clair and Madison counties, and a quarter of Madison County's overdoses, while containing only 11 percent of the county's population.

Police Chief Rich Miller pointed out that Granite City is the largest city in Madison County and two of its neighbors are the St. Louis region's major drug dealing centers: East St. Louis and north St. Louis.

But Miller and Police Maj. Jeff Connor admitted Granite City has a drug issue. They said they are doing something about it, even as drug overdoses increased during the past five years.

"There are no illusions: This is a major problem," Miller said.

One that cannot just be quantified by the number of fatal overdoses. By July 27 of this year, the Granite City Fire Department had administered Narcan 30 times to revive overdose victims.

"I hate to say this. More times they are mad at us for killing their high than saving their life," Granite City firefighter and paramedic Matt Wiwczaroski said.

Ryan Kincaid is familiar with that twisted logic. The 22-year-old Granite City resident has seen friends such as Pauley keep using drugs, especially heroin, even as the deaths mounted.

"They know they are flopping out and dying, and they just don't care," he said.

Kincaid said people his age and younger started on marijuana, moved to prescription pills and then onto heroin, which they used with cocaine.

"I think it is a comfort thing -- something to make them comfortable," Kincaid said. "If you come from Granite City, you aren't expected to come to anything."

Kincaid got so sick of the problem that he organized a rally in front of city hall after one of his friends died of a suspected drug overdose in December. He also met with city leaders to see whether something could be done about it.

"The whole point of the rally is we want answers," he said.

Kincaid said he was told only three police officers were assigned to the city's drug task force.

"There is a little more of a problem than three people," Kincaid said.

Miller countered that his patrol officers work drug cases, three officers are assigned to the city's nuisance team, which targets drug offenders, and one undercover officer each is assigned to work with the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Metropolitan Enforcement Group of Southwestern Illinois. He also said more than a half a dozen officers were sent to investigate a cocaine overdose last month.

But all the law enforcement in the world won't do much good if users won't change their habits and won't help police, Miller said. And even when an arrest is made, a new dealer is there to fill the void.

"Drug work is quirky," Miller said. "It's not all about crushing people."

Miller said Granite City was traditionally a marijuana town. Starting last decade, prescription pill abuse became more prevalent and that was followed the past two years by an increase in heroin use. People started seeing friends and relatives die.

"I think it's shocking to some of these people," Miller said.

No one is exempt.

Connor had two uncles die of drug overdoses. In 2008, he received a police call and found his 42-year-old uncle, Joey Connor, lying on the floor dead from an overdose of fentanyl and cocaine.

"The sad thing is it wasn't a surprise," Connor said.

Miller said a number of factors drive up Granite City's drug overdose numbers: Chiefly, the city's socioeconomic situation and the fact it is predominantly white, meaning prescription drug abuse and heroin abuse are more common than in other areas. The city is also home to mental health and drug rehabilitation facilities, a hospital and charity organizations that attract drug addicts.

"They kind of migrate to our city," Miller said.

And it doesn't help that the city is just across the McKinley Bridge from what Miller termed the "Mecca" of heroin dealing.

Miller said that this spring, for the first time in his 11 years as either chief or assistant chief, law enforcement officials from both sides of the Mississippi River began meeting to address the drug problem and other crime issues that cross jurisdictional boundaries. He sees hope.

"In the past, it kind of festered over there," he said.

Pauley would cross the river to get drugs or just get them from people in town, his grandmother said.

For years, he mixed Xanax and Vicodin with vodka and only started using heroin in the months, and possibly days, before his death.

To support his addiction he would steal from his grandmother — pills, debit cards, tools and anything else he could get his hands on in her tidy suburban home. Chilton estimated she spent $25,000 on lawyers and bail for Pauley and on the belongings he would steal and pawn.

Nevertheless, she always would welcome him back into her home when he wore out his welcome elsewhere.

"I always found him more valuable than what I lost," Chilton said.

Pauley dealt with other issues besides drugs. He was known to cut himself and had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and an impulse problem, Chilton said.

Chilton said his parents were teenagers when he was born. After his parents divorced and started new families he never fit easily into their lives. His drug addiction only made things worse.

Pauley took a much different path than his sister, who has never touched drugs, said his mother, Brenda Jones. On the other hand, she said, he had a side that not many people saw: He was a hard worker who painted houses, and he loved animals and babies. He also wanted to make his father proud, Jones said.

Days before he overdosed he planned to go with his father to Jefferson City, Mo., but Chilton found out he had tried heroin.

"'Don't mess things up with me and my dad,'" he begged Chilton, whom he called Dee Dee. "'I promise, Dee Dee, that I'll never do it again.'"

Chilton relented but told him he would have to enter rehabilitation when he got back. Less than two days later Pauley died.

"Kyle didn't really seem to fit in anywhere," Chilton said. "For what he lacked there, he found in drugs. Apparently they loved him more than I did."

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