Heroin has quickly become an easily accessible drug of choice for many middle-class 17- to 24-year olds in Will County, according to drug and mental health case workers with the Will County State’s Attorney’s office.
But other drugs, some legal, are showing up on the scene as well, resulting in large numbers of emergency room visits, overdoses and addiction.
Julie McCabe-Sterr and Marcia Van Natta spoke about drug trends with about 50 parents of middle school and high school students in a special presentation held Wednesday at .
Stigmas associated with heroin use have declined, and “heroin is overwhelming the drug of choice,” said McCabe-Sterr, a drug and mental health court coordinator.
Students are using the drug at parties or before high school dances, she said. An 18-year-old valedictorian she's supervised got hooked on heroin after taking Vicodin for a dental procedure, she said.
In the past few years, Will County has seen the number of heroin overdoses by people under 21 years old nearly double, from 15 overdoses in 2007 to 26 overdoses in 2010. To date, there have been 23 reported heroin overdoses by people under 21 years old, and paramedics have been trained to use a medication to halt the effects of an overdose to result in fewer deaths, McCabe-Sterr said.
“We have an epidemic on our hands with heroin,” she said. “This drug is killing our kids.”
But heroin isn’t the only drug trending right now.
A drug known as K-2 is easily accessible and legal. K-2 is mostly chemicals sprayed on herbs, marketed as potpourri and sold at convenience stores and tobacco shops, McCabe-Sterr said. The package is marked “not for human consumption” and claims it is legal in all 50 states, but when smoked it has the mind-altering abilities of marijuana.
“Because it is not tobacco, because it is not against the law, your 12-year-old can walk in the store and buy it,” she said.
K-2 results in impaired motor control, memory impairment and an increased heart rate. Emergency room visits have increased 600 percent in the last two years, McCabe-Sterr said.
Bath salts, a synthetic cocaine that mimics cocaine’s effects, are illegal, but many tobacco stores still carry it. When snorted or smoked, the bath salts are highly addictive and users wind up in the emergency room because of it, McCabe-Sterr said.
“It is against the law but tobacco stores still have it,” she said. “Some tobacco stores have urine behind the counter. You can buy fake urine. You can buy synthetic urine.”
The warning signs parents should look for include pupils looking larger or smaller than normal, changes in appetite or sleep patterns, deterioration of physical appearance, unusual smells or impaired coordination, the women said.
Drug abusers often are tardy or absent for school, have an unexplained need for money, have a sudden change in friends, engage in secretive behaviors and frequently get into trouble. They may have sudden mood swings or may appear agitated, anxious, paranoid or fearful.
Van Natta, a drug and mental health court case manager, said parents need to talk with their children openly about drugs, drug use and abuse. She said parents should always let their kids know they can call them if they are at a party and need to come home or if they are in trouble.
Parents should also talk with their children about ways of refusing drugs when the situation comes up, reinforce family values and expectations, let them know there will be consequences of drug use, Van Natta said.
If drugs and alcohol are playing a major role in their children’s lives, parents should seek professional interventions, Van Natta said. Children who actively use drugs may be coming and going without explanation in the day or the night, have depression, extreme anger, aggression or other emotional problems, she said.
Most important, parents should know they are not alone, and parents should not give up trying to get their children help, she said.
For more information, Van Natta and McCabe-Sterr suggested visting www.timberlineknolls.com.