ST. LOUIS – Drug overdose deaths and substance use in St. Louis County taking center stage on a day to mark the issue.

August 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day St. Louis County Executive Sam Page plans to highlight the overdose issue later Wednesday morning in comments at the Main County Building.

Page’s Chief Spokesperson Doug Moore said Page is expected to call substance use an ongoing major public health crisis in St. Louis County. Moore said there were 490 overdose deaths from all substances last year in St. Louis County. That was up from 455 in 2020.

Moore told us there were 343 opioid-related deaths in St. Louis County last year, tying the amount in 2020 for a record number of opioid-related deaths. Page is expected to say Wednesday morning that fentanyl, which is 50 times more potent than heroin, was a factor in a majority of overdose deaths.

Moore told us Page will also likely highlight a new plan to combat substance use released last month by the St. Louis County Health Department. That plan has five goals including raising awareness about substance use, preventing opioid use disorder and other substance use disorders, increasing the availability of Narcan to help rescue people during an overdose, connecting more people to treatment with a focus on high-risk populations, and increasing access to recovery services.

Moore said the COVID pandemic has contributed to an increase in overdoses and deaths and that the easy availability of fentanyl has made substance use even more deadly.

Moore also told us that St. Louis County plans to increase its efforts to combat overdoses and substance use by dedicating $48 million in opioid settlement funds for treatment and prevention programs.