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Will County Experts: Heroin Problem a Public Health Crisis

Will County public officials spoke last week at a community heroin forum hosted by Valley View School District 365U and Will County HELPS.

In 1998, Will County officials were surprised if they saw one or two deaths from heroin overdoses, Will County Coroner Pat O’Neil told those gathered for a community forum on heroin Nov. 14. 

Now Will County is on track to have 48 deaths from heroin overdoses in 2012.

READ: Student's Arrest Tied to Friend's Overdose Death at Lewis: Cops

It’s a heroin epidemic, Will County officials said, during the event, hosted by Will County HELPS and Valley View School District. A public health crisis. Heroin is in your community. It’s readily available. It's very powerful, very addictive and incredibly dangerous. It’s cheap and easy to get.

Several circumstances have occurred to create a “perfect storm” for the heroin epidemic, Will County Judge Ray Nash said, and he expects it to get worse.

“The holidays in regards to heroin are quite grim,” Nash said. “It’s not unusual to lose six or seven people (to heroin overdoses) in eight to 10 days.” 

Many officials bemoaned the lack of urgency and attention given to the increase in heroin use.

The Chicago area has the most severe heroin problem, according to a report from the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy from Roosevelt University.  

In 2010, Chicago had the most emergency room visits involving heroin, with 24,360. New York City took a distant second with 12,226 visits. NYC had a 24 percent decrease from 2008. Chicago had a 2 percent increase.

Nash likened heroin to a terminal illness for the county. “Will County, you’ve got cancer,” he said. 

Public officials have tried to spread the word for the past year and a half, they said, and heroin overdoses have continued to increase. 

'Super heroin'

Unlike the heroin of years past, you don’t need a needle to use the drug – you can snort it or smoke it. Health officials call this new form of the drug “super heroin” because of its purity. In the past, heroin may have had a pureness in the single digits. Now it’s 50 to 60 percent pure, making an overdose increasingly likely. 

“There is no experimenting with this new heroin,” said O’Neil. “It’s just too powerful.” 

Where the heroin is coming from 

The bulk of heroin is not coming from Will County, said Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow. It’s coming from Chicago. 

There are 170 open-air heroin markets led by the street gang the Vice Lords, Nash said. Those markets are concentrated near Pulaski and Chicago Avenue. Glasgow said dealers will sell heroin to anyone. 

“I could go up there, dressed like I am (in a suit) and buy it,” Glasgow said.

Heroin goes for $10 a hit or 13 hits for $100.

Dr. Joe Toiani of the Will County Health Department said his niece was introduced between her seventh and eighth grade years. She started receiving treatment for heroin addiction during her freshman year of high school. Her parents thought she was going to the "bad parts of town" for the drug. She said she got it at the Streets of Woodfield in Schaumburg. 

"Heroin is in your front yard, your school, your mall," Toiani said. "There's no such thing as drug-free zone."

Heroin misconceptions

Toiani of the Will County Health Department said he visited Valley View classrooms last year to talk about heroin. He asked the students both if they knew someone who had used heroin, and if they had some connection to purchasing the drug. There was a “surprising amount of hands” that were raised for both questions.

There were also critical misconceptions. Students believed that you could only become addicted or overdose on heroin if you injected it, not if you snorted or smoked it. If you’re safe in how you use it, it won’t be a problem, they thought. 

Heroin symptoms

Heroin is one of the most addictive chemicals known to man, according to Nash. Heroin produces an “incredible, first euphoric high,” that the user will never experience again but will chase after again and again.

Heroin slows down the vital functions of the body. Those who use it are sedated and lethargic. The drug irrevocably changes the brain. 

“Parents ask me when their kids are in recovery, ‘When will my son or daughter come back?’” Burke said. “They’re not going to come back. They’re not the same.”

Heroin is also dangerous. It accounts for 90 percent of narcotic deaths in the United States.

Who uses heroin

Burke said there is no face of heroin. 

“I could not point out anyone at risk of using heroin,” Burke said. “Part of the stigma is because people think when a child dies there has to be something wrong at home. That’s not true. The face of heroin has changed and we need to stop stigmatizing and start talking about the problem.”

Educating students 

Teenagers don’t understand heroin because it’s not focused on during drug education, said Kathleen Burke, of Robert Crown Center for Health Education. 

“(The current curriculum) is very focused on tobacco, alcohol and marijuana,” Burke said. “(Some) feel strongly that if you prevent those, you won’t move on to the next drug.”

Burke said some argue if heroin or other drugs are not talked about, students won’t abuse them. But that’s doing students a disservice, she said. 

Robert Crown is piloting a heroin education program at four high schools in four different counties. In a year, Robert Crown will know if the program works, Burke said. Then it can be brought to other Will County high schools. 

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Ron November 25, 2012 at 06:11 AM
I see your aversion to facts and evidence precludes you from supplying any of your own.
Plainfield MOM November 26, 2012 at 02:09 AM
Ron, You seemed to be the MAN with all the answers....SO? Instead of pointing out WHAT everyone is doing WRONG how about stating what YOU should think everyone should do. How about some ideas? WELL????
Ron November 26, 2012 at 03:57 AM
I never said I had all the answers, that is your assumption, but I'm glad you look up to my intelligence. I never said anyone was doing anything wrong. Simply stated, DARE is ineffective. Perhaps you have me confused with another poster? I am specifically talking about DARE, not who is administering the program. I still like all of your supporting evidence about DARE being an effective program. You continue to ignore the issue of DAREs ineffectiveness and fall in line with what people tell you. It's not my job to create educational drug awareness programs nor is it yours. DARE is an ineffective program and it is my job as a citizen who pays taxes to express my dissatisfaction with the program and not create a new one. If you think it's the average citizens job to create new ideas for governement, your priorities are out of wack. Perhaps you could take some time to respond without yelling and answer some of the valid questions I asked you?
Plainfield MOM November 30, 2012 at 11:44 PM
Thank you for proving my point. I go by how my kids are doing and the teenagers around my kids. Dare is good if it continues at home. You have a lot of blame and a lot of websites that back up your theory, but you do not exist in every home nor does the police. Like you said the police are not there to raise our children "Who ever said it was the police department's job to raise the children in the Village?" Go around yourself and ask everyone in PLAINFIELD that have children and maybe ask yourself this important question, What if DARE was not around where would our children be?" (Thanks for that statement you know who you are!) It may need to be upgraded or something added to the program, but yelling or throwing blame to me is not the answer. So, again thank you for proving my point in the beginning..How about you do the research on updating if YOU feel there is a problem, Ron. I do not need to give you proof, I am not the one complaining! I am just letting you know by how the kids are around my area, families are involved, and DARE is working IF it continues at home. Good Luck Ron. Peace!
Gertrude Ann February 22, 2013 at 02:18 PM
Why are any of you waiting for the schools to do anything... you know what I don't want... "A village to raise a child" You know who's in the village? The village idiot, the village beggar, the village drug addict, the village hooker, the village pedophile, the village priest, (I did distinguish between the two) the village con artist, the village adulterer, and the village genius. I don't need any of these people, or teachers, or an antiquated school system, which was designed before the automobile, to alter or try and influence my child's moral compass. That responsibility belongs solely to my wife and I and if you truly want to end some of these problems you don't institute more government bureaucracy you take personal responsibility for the children you brought into this world and YOU educate them about moral decisions concerning sex, drugs and behavior. Asking some teacher to be the moral compass for your child is a very slippery slope that we've already slid to far down. I don't understand how you expect teachers to only interject the morals and opinions you want? Are they mind readers? Can they predict the future? So then the second one of them says something you're not 100% on board with then you're going to be writing diatribes on how terrible all teachers are. I'd prefer that the teachers focus on how to find "Y", where to put the comma, the basics of supply and demand and I will handle the sex, drug, and moral education at home, like I'm suppose to.

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