Pam Jones didn't know why she had suddenly awoken. It was just a feeling; something was wrong.
Her 23-year-old son, Andrew Eugene Jones, had returned to their St. Charles home at 1 a.m. after a night of drinking on Main Street. She and her husband, Terry Jones, had already gone to bed. Andrew came upstairs to their bedroom and said good night.
"You'd be proud of me," he told his parents. "I took a taxi home."
Their son was safe. Pam and Terry went to sleep.
At 3:26 a.m., Pam woke up. "It was like something hit me in the head," she said. She started looking around the house. She checked Andrew's bedroom. He wasn't there, but the lights were on. All through the house, lights were on.
She searched for Andrew, walking past framed photos of a strapping, athletic youth with an All-American grin. She walked downstairs and found an open sports drink sitting on the table. It was full.
Then she noticed the bathroom door was closed. She called out to her son. No answer. The door was locked. Pam broke it down.
She saw Andrew lying on the bathroom floor. His skin was cold. She ran upstairs and got Terry. He performed CPR on his son, but could not restart Andrew's heart. Paramedics arrived and tried to revive Andrew, but it was too late.
"They told us he was dead," Terry said.
May 12, 2010, brought a bitter conclusion to Andrew's two-year descent from star athlete to heroin addict.
Andrew had graduated from Duchesne High School with good grades and a stellar football record. He continued his athletic career at Missouri State University. When he wasn't practicing football, he was working out in the gym. Andrew would preach to his friends against eating fast food and drinking soda. Pam, 52, and Terry, 56, said their son's "magnetic personality" and "kind heart" attracted a large circle of friends.
"If you had told us two years before that Andrew would die of heroin, we would have said no way, not Andrew," Pam said.
During his senior year at Duchesne, Andrew led the Pioneers with 125 tackles, averaging more than 10 per game. Duchesne football coach Charlie Elmendorf, in an interview that season, said Andrew was "a great student and athlete" with "a bright future."
The transformation began in 2008. A series of injuries and illnesses hit Andrew during his sophomore year at Missouri State, sidelining his football plans. Doctors prescribed painkillers. When the prescriptions ran out, Andrew found other ways of obtaining them. He had become addicted to OxyContin, a synthetic opiate with properties similar to heroin. It became Andrew's gateway to using real heroin.
During the summer of 2009, Terry and Pam noticed their son's behavior was changing. New friends were hanging around the house. Old friends no longer visited. When they found drug paraphernalia in the bathroom, Andrew tried to bluff his way around it. Finally, Andrew admitted he had an OxyContin problem, but he kept his heroin addiction a secret.
His parents enrolled him in a drug treatment program. Andrew went through withdrawals at home, writhing in excruciating pain.
"He said it felt like every bone in his body was broken," Pam said.
In July 2009, when his parents were at work, Andrew and some friends drove to a MetroLink station in north St. Louis County and bought heroin from a dealer in the parking lot, Pam said. Andrew overdosed in the friend's car. The friend dropped him off at a gas station in St. Louis, where someone called 911. Andrew was taken to a hospital and survived. Terry and Pam finally learned of their son's heroin addiction.
"He said he felt like he was insane," Pam said.
Andrew spent the next year undergoing treatment using two detox drugs. He saw therapists and attended support group meetings. The treatments seemed to work. Andrew found a full-time job, then landed a football scholarship at Lindenwood University. Terry and Pam thought their son had turned the corner.
Then came May 11, 2010. Andrew's detox drug had worn off. He was scheduled to receive another injection the next day. That night, he met a childhood friend while attending a dinner party with his parents. Terry and Pam knew the friend was drug-free, so they did not object to Andrew leaving with him.
At a bar on Main Street, Andrew ran into another friend, one his parents told him to stay away from. That friend sold Andrew two $10 heroin capsules, or "buttons," Terry said. Andrew took a taxi home, told his parents good night, went downstairs to the bathroom, swallowed the pills and died.
During the last year, Terry and Pam have become active public speakers, warning parents about the rising tide of heroin use — and deaths — among suburban youth.
They have teamed up with the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, which organizes the Not-Even-Once.com public awareness campaign to discourage curious youth from trying heroin.
"The message is, if this can happen to Andrew, it can happen to anyone," Terry said.
Andrew's death was one of 182 heroin fatalities last year in the St. Louis area, including St. Louis city and St. Louis, St. Charles, Jefferson and Franklin counties.
The statistic comes from the office of Dr. Mary Case, chief medical examiner for the four counties. Case spoke about the region's growing heroin epidemic Oct. 18 during a drug awareness seminar at Harvester Christian Church in St. Charles County.
In 36 years as a St. Louis area medical examiner, Case said she has never seen the volume of heroin deaths she has observed during the last few years.
"Some days I have three or four people lying in my morgue dead," Case said. "It's getting worse, not better."
In St. Louis city and county combined, heroin killed 89 people in 2008, 116 in 2009, 127 in 2010 and 122 as of Oct. 12, 2011.
In St. Charles County, heroin killed 10 people in 2008, 17 in 2009, 22 in 2010 and 11 so far in 2011.
"Our kids are not safe," Case said. "They are at greater risk than they have ever been."
The problem is that heroin is purer, more potent, more available and cheaper than ever, she said. "For the price of a six-pack of beer, they can get high on heroin," Case said.
The St. Charles County Regional Drug Task Force has seized more than 2,000 doses of heroin this year, up from 1,500 in 2010, said its commander, who asked that his name be withheld to protect undercover operations. By year's end, nearly 100 people will be charged with heroin distribution in St. Charles County, he said.
Today's street heroin is mostly white powder, a more refined form than the raw "black tar" of years past, he said. Sellers use the powder to make capsules that sell for $10 each. It can also be snorted like cocaine, he said.
A more chunky powdered form is called "crete" or "concrete," named for its concrete-like color and texture.
Old-fashioned black tar is still out there, the task force commander said. Black tar sells for $200 per gram, which is about the size of a pencil eraser. One gram can yield almost 40 doses, he said.
Users melt black tar into a liquid, then inject it with a syringe. The shift from black tar to white powder is one reason more suburban youth are using the drug, the commander said.
To the previous generation, heroin was a "dirty thing," he said. The name conjured images of junkies with needles sticking out of their arms. The new powdered form has removed some of that stigma, he said.
"It seems a little more cosmopolitan to snort a drug," he said. "In the user's mind, if you snort a drug, you are not a junkie."
The St. Charles County task force includes detectives from multiple law enforcement agencies and works in conjunction with a similar drug task force in St. Louis County, the North County Municipal Enforcement Group.
The commander said his task force includes undercover detectives who drive unmarked cars and try to look and behave like drug dealers. They infiltrate drug trafficking rings, gaining the dealers' confidence. The task force will prosecute drug users, but is more interested in nabbing the suppliers higher up the chain, he said.
The task force concentrates its efforts on St. Charles County drug activity; when its investigations lead to suppliers outside Missouri, it hands it off to the Drug Enforcement Administration, he said.
The DEA can follow the trail all the way back to the source country, said the DEA's St. Louis spokeswoman, Special Agent Karin Caito.
Most heroin in the Midwest originates in the South American nation of Columbia, Caito said. Drug cartels distribute it north through Mexico and across the U.S. border, she said. Though Afghanistan also is a well-known heroin producer, it is not a major source of heroin in the St. Louis area, Caito said.
In 2008, the DEA noticed a decrease in cocaine availability and an increase in heroin, she said. Heroin had become more pure and easier to purchase than cocaine, leading users to shift from one drug to the other, she said. Sellers who had been selling black tar heroin to urban users began marketing white powder to younger suburban and rural users, she said.
Because the drug is so addictive, users who start out snorting white powder often switch to injecting black tar, Caito said. The body builds up a tolerance, requiring higher doses to achieve the same high, she said.
On Sept. 27, the DEA, collaborating with 32 other St. Louis area law enforcement agencies, arrested 53 people on heroin possession and distribution charges. Caito said the same roundup later resulted in 17 additional arrests, 70 total.
Caito said the heroin roundup, the biggest in St. Louis history, was just the first phase of the DEA's multi-agency initiative to combat heroin. "There will be a round two," she said.