That's the first decrease since Will County Coroner Pat O'Neil began tracking heroin deaths in 1999, Walsh said.
"While this number represents 35 families whose lives have been forever changed at the loss of a family member, I am encouraged by this change in the trend,” O’Neil said.
According to the coroner's office, there were seven heroin-related deaths in Plainfield, 17 in Joliet, five in Bolingbrook, five in Romeoville and three in Shorewood in 2013. View the full data here.
Walsh noted that heroin deaths began to spike in 2010, with 26 deaths in Will County. The alarming statistics prompted two fathers to join forces to raise awareness and fight back against the epidemic.
Dads John Roberts and Brian Kirk united after losing their sons, Billy and Matt, to heroin addiction. Their organization, the HERO Foundation, hosted a rally in the summer of 2010, inviting local leaders to join the fight.
Walsh was among county officials to attend the rally make the pledge that Will County would fight back against the heroin scourge.
Walsh reached out to O’Neil, State's Attorney James Glasgow, Sheriff Paul Kaupas, and Roberts, to form Will County HELPS (Heroin Education Leads to Preventative Solutions) and have continued to seek out partners to spread the message, “You only try heroin once, after that your addiction owns you and you could wind up dead.”
“We have held countless forums in communities across Will
County to raise awareness to the physical, mental, social, and legal
ramifications of heroin use,” said Walsh. “I am extremely proud of the
partnerships we have created to spread this important message. We have met so
many families who have been touched by heroin that we know our efforts have not
been in vain.”
The county has also forged a partnership with the Robert Crown Center for Healthy Education, which is in the second year of a pilot heroin prevention initiative with Joliet Township high schools and Troy Middle School.
“Our children are smart and it is up to all of us to empower them
to make smart decisions,” Walsh said. I think the heroin
prevention initiative and the community forums have been successful in raising
awareness of heroin in our area and helped these children make wise choices. I
also believe we have begun conversations between parents and their children
about the dangers of this drug.”
The drop in heroin overdose deaths doesn't signal the end of the initiative, however. Walsh said the county is working to expand the heroin prevention initiative into other schools in Will County.
“We will not rest until we have driven heroin out of Will County,” said Walsh. “Our greatest weapon against this epidemic is to educate people about the effects of heroin.”
The 2014 HERO Helps forum is scheduled for Saturday, May 17.