A woman was charged Tuesday with distributing fentanyl and crack cocaine at a St. Louis apartment building where five people died of apparent drug overdoses.
The overdose deaths were among seven within a couple of blocks of each other between Saturday and Monday. The deaths prompted warnings from city leaders about the risks posed by fentanyl, an unpredictable synthetic drug 50 times stronger than heroin.
Chuny Ann Reed was charged in federal court. She lives at Parkview Apartments, where at least nine people overdosed on Saturday. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, citing court documents, reported that one of the four survivors told authorities they had purchased crack cocaine at Reed’s apartment, ingested it and immediately overdosed.
Court documents said an analysis of a substance left on the crack pipe of one victim determined it was a mixture of fentanyl and cocaine.
Reed admitted to selling drugs to her neighbors to support her addiction, she told investigators, according to court documents. She does not yet have an attorney.
It wasn’t immediately clear if others will also be arrested and charged. The St. Louis Drug Enforcement Administration and St. Louis police declined to comment on the investigation to The Associated Press.
St. Louis leaders on Tuesday urged people to watch for the signs of opioid addiction, saying the city has seen 1,168 overdose deaths over the past three years. The number of overdose victims fell to 352 in 2021 from 441 in 2020.
Nichole Dawsey, executive director of PreventED, a St. Louis-based organization that seeks to reduce and prevent the harms of alcohol and drug abuse, called the cluster of deaths “tremendously unique” and an alarming example of the dangers of fentanyl.
“It’s in a lot of drugs, including methamphetamine and cocaine and a lot of drugs that aren’t opioids,” Dawsey said. “We do know the potency is incredibly high.”
Dawsey said the deaths have sent a shockwave through the community. Her organization provides the overdose-reversing drug naloxone to the public and since this weekend, requests have more than tripled, she said.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid used legally during surgeries and to treat people with chronic, severe pain, such as cancer patients. Illicit fentanyl is often laced with other dangerous drugs like heroin.
Statistics provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that overdose deaths topped 100,000 for the 12 months ending in April, including 2,004 deaths in Missouri. The National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics said fentanyl is a factor in more than half of all overdose deaths.