Opinion: Sobering look at overdoses

September 18, 2011 

Look at the faces in the newspaper today.

They are not who you would expect. They are not the faces of drug addicts.

But they are.

Belleville News-Democrat reporters Kevin Bersett and Jacqueline Lee along with photographer Zia Nizami spent the past months exploring drug overdose deaths in St. Clair and Madison counties. They started on this path in January after noticing a lot of overdose deaths. Then came press conferences by local law enforcement and protests in multiple local cities, all decrying the spread of heroin.

Plowing through five years of coroners' reports in both counties showed them that heroin, indeed, was killing more local residents, especially our youth. But it also showed that the biggest problem was and remains abuse of prescription pills, especially painkillers.

And it showed overdose deaths are growing rapidly, overtaking car crashes as the leading cause of accidental death in the metro-east.

Besides the data, the reporters talked to dozens of people close to the problem: addicts, cops, doctors, rehab specialists, coroners, prosecutors, as well as the friends and family left behind.

Jeff Muelchi, of O'Fallon, is a recovering addict and a recovering father. His son, Michael, is one of the 357 local people who died from an overdose.

He said you can't tell an addict by looking at them. You have to get closer and get involved to prevent a death.

"If they don't want to be like me and not have a kid anymore, they have to do what they got to do, to the best of their ability."

Look at the faces. Read the hard-earned advice. Do what you've got to do.

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