By Ann Rubin
(KSDK) - Heroin use: it's a problem of epidemic proportions. The number of fatal overdoses is suddenly so high in St. Louis, that parents, counselors and the users themselves are speaking out.
Part of the problem is new, more potent drug on the streets. Sometimes the heroin is mixed with the painkiller fentanyl. Often, the users don't know what they're getting until it's too late.
The overdoses aren't just happening in dark drug houses. They're happening in suburbia. And the users don't just inject it. They also snort it and smoke it.
The drug is killing record numbers of people, including Benjamin Hanks and Gwen Brna-Venanzi.
Brna-Venanzi's father, William Brna wonders how his daughter could throw everything away including her children, her family and her house.
Hanks’ father, Fred Hanks, doesn't understand either.
"I didn't ever think my son would ever do it," said Fred.
But he did. And Ben Hanks may never have realized how big a risk he was taking.
"I got my son's death certificate. It was fentanyl-heroin overdose," said his mother, Christine Odom.
Fentanyl -- a pain killer 80 times more potent than morphine -- was mixed in with his heroin. It was a fatal combination, one narcotics agents are seeing all too often.
"The fentanyl and the heroin are killing the kids. They told me there are 200 deaths in St. Louis already," said Odom.
Percy Menzies runs a treatment clinic called Assisted Recovery Centers of America. He said he's receiving more heroin calls than he can handle.
"We in the private sector cannot carry on this burden. We are overwhelmed," said Menzies.
He's working to educate the public. He said there are treatment options, like naltrexone which blocks the effects of heroin.
Tony Delgado, a recovering addict, said it eliminates the high.
"Nothing happens. It works pretty good.," said Delgado. Delgado has been clean since January, but said it's taken until now to realize the risks of addiction.
"The drug dealers don't care what they're putting in there. You're just risking your life every time."
These are risks the families of Gwen Venanzi and Ben Hanks know all too well. Their pain is still fresh.
"We miss him every day. And if I can help anybody, just not to do heroin. If you know somebody who is selling it or doing it, notify the narcotics detectives," said Ben's mother, Christine.
William Brna also hopes someone will listen.
"If I can help somebody else, even if I can only help one person, it'll be worth it," said William.
Both families plan to keep speaking out about heroin addiction and the about treatment options that are available.