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New war on heroin through the eyes of those on the front lines

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ST. LOUIS (KPLR) - A recent scene at a deadly heroin overdose jarred emergency responders. The victim, who was dead from a drug overdose, wore a bracelet saying Not-Even-Once.com, a reference to never trying heroin.

Recovering addict Chad Sabora often compares drug use to suicide. Now he uses that as a tactic to get people help.

We met him during a recent intervention outside of a St. Louis hospital. He worked with an addict to get him admitted.

“You have to make a direct threat and tell them a plan,” Sabora told the addict. “So what we’re going to say when we walk in there is, ‘I have access to a weapon, if you don’t take me right now, I’m going to go home and shoot myself in the head.’ … That’s the only lie you’re going to tell today.”

Sabora said it’s the only way for some addicts to save themselves.

“You’re going to sit down with the nurse then she’s going to ask you what’s going on. What are you going to say? The addict reaffirmed, 'I’m suicidal. I have access to a weapon. If I leave here I’m going home to use it.' Okay, good. After that, be honest.”

Once he gets through the ER and admitted into the bio behavioral unit, Sabora said he’ll have a better shot of getting into heroin rehab.

“When you get out, you can get enrolled in outpatient right away, so you call me the day you get out,” Sabora told the addict.

“If this is what I gotta do, this is what I’ve gotta do. I don’t have any insurance now so it’s kind of hard to get in somewhere,” the addict said.

When asked if there was one thing that made him want to get clean, the addict said, “Not just one thing. Well, one main thing would be my children and myself. I’m tired of this for myself and my family and my kids mainly. I meant to do so much more. I used to be a firefighter EMT.”

They walked into the hospital as Sabora said he’s done this with addicts hundreds of times.

I asked DEA task force officer Juan Wilson, 'What do you think about that?'

Wilson responded, “I`ve talked to Chad myself. You know it`s the same thing in law enforcement, not everyone agrees. Not everybody has the same type of tactics in order to help and you know I talked to Chad and told him we both have the same goal and that`s to end the heroin epidemic and stop people from dying.”

Wilson recently changed tactics, leaving undercover work.

“You send them to jail. They’re in there for 24 hours or 72 hours. They get released. They’re still battling addiction,” he said.

Wilson’s heading a new federal approach on prevention, which includes reaching out to children. Wilson, who’s also a detective with the St. Charles City Police Department, described one recent talk when, “…girls came up to me with tears in their eyes. They asked me, why didn’t their parents want them and why wasn’t anything they did ever enough? To know they’re hurting so badly. A parent that’s battling addiction is choosing drugs over a relationship with their kids.”

He was part of a recent drug net in St. Charles County, nabbing suspects connected to two deaths in O`Fallon. Several reported distributors now face involuntary manslaughter charges, which are felony charges that may become more common after a recent jury verdict.

St. Charles County Prosecutor Tim Lohmar said, “It just so happened to be the perfect storm.”

It’s known as the Jason Shell case. A jury last year held Shell responsible for an overdose death, finding him guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

“That was a theory that in this state, I don’t believe had ever been taken to a jury before,” Lohmar said. “Other people had been charged with it and had pled guilty to that but it had never been taken to a jury as a viable theory of liability. So that in a sense was groundbreaking.”

It opened the door to prosecute people like the reported dealer to Rochelle Wilson`s son. 30-year-old Christopher Hegger tested clean for three years before he died. Wilson said, 'We had several conversations about how are you staying clean? What are you doing? What are you going to do? Things like that and he said to me once, `if you hear me name these five names then you know I`m in trouble` and the person who supplied this drug that ended up being the fatal overdose was one of these people.'

Wilson said her son couldn't cope with anxiety. Heroin kept him from learning how. She added, 'When you use drugs as long as he did, you kind of miss your teen years. You miss your early adult years and so the usual coping skills that you and I develop, they don`t have and he started having panic attacks the last week of his life.'

She warns, heroin might appear during a night out drinking, like it's a candy. She said, 'I asked him, whatever made him think he could even try that drug? And he said that he didn't know what it was. He was at a party and somebody said hey, do you want to do a button and he said sure and you can snort it and he snorted it and that`s all it took.'

We may never learn the true magnitude of this drug's destruction, because so many people still will not talk about it. Everyone you've seen in this report is attempting to start those conversations and find solutions. You will find their extended interviews below.