Rolla police wary after seven heroin overdoses

Rolla's police chief says seven people overdosed on heroin in 24 hours, one fatally.

Police said Friday they think a particularly pernicious batch of heroin may be behind a string of seven overdoses, including one death, in a 24-hour period.

Police Chief Mark Kearse told KRCG 13 although tests have not yet been completed on a person found dead Thursday, all signs point to a heroin overdose as that person was a known user and was found with a syringe in their arm. He said hospital contacts told him they treated six other overdoses that same day. Kearse said the large amount of overdoses in a short time led him to believe a new, deadlier batch of heroin had hit Rolla's streets. That led him to post an open letter to the community on the department's Facebook page in which he warned drugs are behind about 70 percent of the crimes in the Rolla area.

"Everything from some homicides we've had to some attempted hits on people from drug trades to, of course, burglaries and robberies and all other types of crimes," he explained to KRCG 13, adding the 70 percent estimation includes all drugs, not just heroin.

Kearse said although heroin is far and away the biggest drug problem Rolla faces, he thought most Rolla residents were unaware of the problem heroin was causing their town. Zachary Bramel is an exception. He said heroin users frequently take their habits out of their homes when the cannot indulge them there. He said that means even people with no connection to heroin users feel the effects. As an example, Bramel said naturally-occurring reservoirs that were once popular swimming areas have become littered with needles and syringes.

"It's almost like I'm scared to take my own children around just due to the fact that there could be health concerns with hepatitis, AIDS, needles, leftover drugs," he said. "It doesn't affect everybody, but the people it does affect, it ruins their lives and unfortunately, there can be consequences from their use around our community."

Bramel said he thought Rolla would be better served if law enforcement took a more active role in helping users find treatment rather than simply prosecuting them.

Kearse, meanwhile, said parental involvement is key to reducing drug use in the Rolla area. He said parents should make time to connect with their children and listen to them. On the enforcement end, he said his department will keep going after drug dealers. Rolla has a full-time drug unit, and Kearse said he has heard drug dealers are telling each other not to go to Rolla because of aggressive enforcement there.