PACIFIC, MO (KTVI) - Pacific Police held the final DARE graduation of the year for the Meramec Valley R-3 School District. Families gathered Wednesday morning for ceremonies they hoped would save their children from heroin use.
Pacific Police Captain Larry Cook watched families take their seats in front of a stage at Truman Elementary. However, his mind was on the fifth graders wearing special dark-blue t-shirts.
"People are going to do what they want to do whenever they get to be adults."
That is why Pacific Police Officer Steven Zapolski spent the school year with students at Truman and nearby schools. For the kids ready to graduate, DARE stood for Drug Abuse Resistance Education.
“Hopefully,” Cook said. “We can get the education out there with these kids, so they don't go down that path and destroy families."
Police departments across the metro area have had the same program for decades. But, officers in Missouri, Illinois, rural and urban departments have all seen the same spike in heroin cases. Cook previously worked for Pine Lawn and Berekely Police Departments, just outside St. Louis City.
"I started seeing it come back in the 1990s. It started making a recurrence. It just progressed."
Cook is now fighting to keep his neighbors alive in Pacific, a town of less than 8,000 and over 40 miles west of St. Louis.
"Over the past four years, we've had a total of 21 overdoses. We've had eight of those resulting in death from heroin. For our community, with what we had, that's a lot."
Cook said some died, not from heroin use, but from prescription-drug overdoses. But, he pointed out that heroin is cheap and easy to get due to increased traffic from Mexico and the western United States.
"And, it's pure. It don't take that much. You get used to doing a certain amount. They do it now, and that's it."
Cook said detectives often visit suspected drug houses before a user becomes unresponsive there or elsewhere after buying drugs from that location.
"We will just talk to them and tell them we have had reports of things going on, a lot of vehicle and foot traffic and we will go from there."
Otherwise, the only way Pacific Police can stay ahead is to turn students into soldiers in the war on drugs.
"It's an ongoing battle,” he admitted. “Even if we just save one."