ST. LOUIS – Nearly a year has passed since numerous people overdosed on drugs in the Central West End.
Nine people overdosed, and seven of them died in one small area. It was February 5, 2022, when first responders began getting calls about overdoses at Parkview Apartments. Some of the victims were elderly.
Two women jumped into action. Pastor Pamela Paul and 17th Ward Alderwoman, Tina “Sweet Tea” Pihl.
“One thing that surprised me was the ages of the individuals,” Pihl said. “…from senior citizens to middle-aged.”
“I knew one of the people personally, and I knew some of their family members,” Paul said.
“When I heard about it, I wanted to have a call to action, what could we do about it,” Pihl said.
“It’s really important to me for lots of reasons,” Paul said. “I’ve lost lots of family members to opioid overdoses, right? I’ve lost a nephew, a cousin, my brother, and my son to overdose. So it put a humanity piece to it for me, and it put a human face on it, and so for me, it is my life.”
They set up a listening session to hear from people living amid the tragedy.
Parkview residents said at the time they wanted action.
“Just do a drug sweep, a DEA drug sweep,” one woman said.
The feds did just that and then charged a 46-year-old Parkview resident with distributing fentanyl-laced drugs. The defendant died before her trial.
At the time, the DEA said St. Louis’ mass overdose event was one of at least seven across the U.S. in just a two-month period.
“Many of the victims of these mass overdose events thought they were ingesting cocaine and had no idea they were ingesting fentanyl,” said a spokesperson for the DEA.
Fentanyl is now a common “filler,” 100 times stronger than morphine. St. Louis’ DEA Special Agent in Charge gave an illustration with a packet of sugar.
“That right there is the equivalent of 1,000 lethal doses of fentanyl,” said St. Louis’ DEA Special Agent.
Alderwoman Pihl and Pastor Paul have a long-term approach but are attacking the problem through other potential causes of drug addiction.
“This is happening all the time, so I have been trying to start a harm reduction initiative,” Pihl said.
“We’ll find out that most addictions stem from mental health challenges,” Paul said.
“Join me in terms of how can we, as a community, collaboratively organize to mitigate this crisis,” Pihl said. We can. We have to work together.”