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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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sfp November 20, 2012 at 02:12 PM
Education programs should begin in middle school and then continue into high school years!
Tim November 20, 2012 at 09:21 PM
So, what are the local Plainfield officials doing about this? Nothing The school board... nothing. The police chief... nothing. The attitude in this town held by the majority of public officials seems to be that if you ignore a problem, it will just go away. Instead, the police chief was busy writing up a proposal to put rifles in schools to combat a problem that has not even happened, instead of addressing EXISTING problems that are already happening. And the school board, was busy censoring what plays students could perform. Other nearby districts and police departments are already light years ahead. The New Lenox chief seems to have a firm grasp on reality, and has been busy addressing this problem right in the schools with his programs. If we could only get the professionalism of the Joliet police chief, and the intelligence of the New Lenox chief, this town might actually be able to turn around the tailspin that it has entered as a result of an unprofessional and under-educated police chief and educators that currently hold these positions. There are plenty of examples of how to do these things correctly in our own backyard, yet Plainfield officials still seem determined to stick with proven failure.
Plainfield Mom November 21, 2012 at 03:52 AM
Heroin has been in Plainfield high schools for a very long time. People just don't know about it until they have a kid in high school. It is a MAJOR, MAJOR problem in our area.
Ernie Knight November 21, 2012 at 04:36 PM
Tim, The 17-week DARE program is taught in Plainfield schools by Plainfield Police Officers. I'm pretty sure both the Police Chief and the school board were involved with that.
Julie A November 22, 2012 at 12:17 AM
Ernie, its pretty obvious TIM doesn't have a clue what programs the Village and PPD have in this town. Beause the PPD is one of few Departments that are still utilizing the DARE program with 2 officers. Tom Cross and the school district are huge advocates of thiso program, but Mr. Know it all TIM should already know this. :)
Tim November 22, 2012 at 01:53 AM
I'm pretty sure they are too Ernie. But like I said, DARE is just a continuation of proven failure. Take a few minutes of your day to google the phrase 'effectiveness of DARE', and see what you find. The point, was that I see no indication that this department is taking this seriously. There is nothing on the website to addresses this, I do not see any conferences that this chief has attended(contrary to the chief preceding him). What I do see, are lots and lots of press releases on spending a whole day enforcing railroad crossings, handing out stickers to prevent burglaries, and a proposal to put unsupervised(but locked) rifles into the schools. That last one being met with such opposition that the chief removed the entire proposal. That put his name out far and wide, and not in a good way. As an example, I can look to the New Lenox Chief, and see a much more reasoned, planned and effective response to obviously rapidly changing conditions, but ignored in Plainfield. In fact, I am echoing the same concerns as a Will County judge quoted in this very article, noting the 'lack of urgency and attention' being paid to this problem. Is the judge wrong also Ernie? Or maybe you don't know that one of the first heroin deaths in Pfld High Schools happened in the early 1990's? I would hope that you would learn more about this topic, so that next time you don't point to a 20+ y/o failed DARE as a solitary example of a response to this problem, and find it acceptable.
Julie A November 22, 2012 at 04:02 AM
TIM, you are crazy if you think a police department can just stop or prevent these drug from being brought into, sold and used in Plainfield. There is NO program that any chief, states attorney or school can do. Harsher penalties in the criminal justice system, that will solve it.
Ron November 22, 2012 at 04:11 AM
DARE programs are going away Ernie. The program is obviously ineffective. Perhaps you should take Tim's advice and do some research on the effectiveness of DARE. Perhaps you could respond to this without calling Tim and I names? http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/dope/dare/effectiveness.html http://www.alcoholfacts.org/DARE.html DARE is taught in the fifth grade to children who are ten years old. Name one heroin overdose by a grade schooler Ernie? Further education needs to be reinforced in high schools and early college years. Parents need to be educated about their teens and what to look out for. You should do some research on this program before posting about failed drug programs. I'm stunned that you would think a fifth grade 17 week ineffective DARE program has a lasting effect on people in their late teens and early twenties. Based on the article and the evidence, it's obvious DARE isn't working just like the country's 'war on drugs'. Marijuana should become legal just like it will be in Colorado and Washington.
Ron November 22, 2012 at 04:22 AM
Drug addiction is a health problem, not a crime. Nobody’s ever been able to explain to why we waste prison cells on drug addicts. Drug addiction is a consensual crime, it’s a 'crime against oneself'. How can we justify letting violent criminals go because of overcrowding, when there are so many people behind bars whose only crime is they’re addicted to something Drug addiction is a health problem. It should be treated medically, not criminally. If we treated it that way, it would provide a tremendous relief to the prison systems. Not only that, but many of the users could be paying taxes while they were in outpatient treatment instead of being a burden to the rest of us. I keep hearing case after case of somebody doing ten years for drug possession sitting in a cell next to somebody doing two years for a violent crime. Marijuana can get you more time than assault. Prisons should be reserved for violent criminals. Putting anybody else in there is a misdirection, and a complete waste of government resources.
Julie A November 22, 2012 at 04:48 AM
Drugs are the cause of SO much crime in this country, it's un measurable. So to say that these people should not pay for their drug related issues is crazy. Because the next thing we will see is overcrowded hospitals and regard clinics with drug users. Crime and drugs go hand in hand.......
Ernie Knight November 23, 2012 at 11:17 PM
Tim/Ron, So it doesn't count unless you say it counts. That's what I thought. You said they're doing nothing. That is FALSE. It is an outright LIE. You don't like what they're doing.
Ron November 24, 2012 at 05:26 AM
I never said anything about anyone doing nothing Ernie. Perhaps you should reread what I wrote. The DARE program is not effective, simple as that, yet you accuse me of telling a lies. I never said it does not count. Teaching fifth graders in DARE about heroin use is not effective when they are 18-24 years old. Name one grade school child who has overdosed from heroin? It may be 'effective' while the kids are in grade school but what about in high school and college? Do you really believe DARE has an impact on the late teens when it was taught to them nearly a decade ago? The DARE program is outdated like your ideas.
Plainfield MOM November 24, 2012 at 02:38 PM
The DARE program is working, but it does not completely work if it is not continued in the home. Instead of going on the patch and complaining about it or pointing fingers who is not doing what how about putting those efforts to finding more solutions. The phrase "Put up or Shut up" comes to mind! Here is another TRUTH...The people who scream the loudest about others wrong doings are usually the people who do the least to solve it. Remember the Plainfield Police are there to support and uphold the law, not raise your children! It takes a village so lets play nice and try to WORK TOGETHER! Peace!
MidwestGal November 24, 2012 at 03:06 PM
This is also a war on parenting. Too many parents are afraid to educate and discipline. Kids ages 3 and up roam my neighborhood from sun up to sun down. It's not just the herion, it starts with marijuana and alcohol. There are so many drugged up kids in our highschools it's sad. PARENTS need to work together and educate. PARENTS need to not host teenage parties and provide booze for the kids....that's leading to drug use too. One of our football teams had a ton of drugged up kids this season...coach cared less.
Tony November 24, 2012 at 03:20 PM
The biggest problem is that the police are only intrested in the supplier of the drugs so they can pick up some drug money . I feel that the people who are buying the drug need to be punished as well as the people who sell it. Chicago is taking a big step to eliminate the drug selling and a lot of the riff raff are heading to the burbs. I would like to see the police go after the buyers and make them attend drug counseling and drug testing for any amount of time it may take. If there are not any buyers there won't be any sellers. In my west side area of Joliet I know of at least 5 high school kids who are buying drugs from sellers in Crest Hill in an area between Theodore, Ingalls, Larkin and Gael. These are low end dealers and the police don't seem to care what they do as long as no traffic laws are violated.
Tim November 24, 2012 at 04:28 PM
Ah yes, the 'I dont know, so it must be impossible' line. Take a look around, there are PLENTY of departments around the country that are having a very real effect(that you claim is impossible) http://www.antonnews.com/westburytimes/opinion/25400-letter-heroin-prevention-task-force.html When has the chief reached out to the community, in a positive way? http://www.mountaineagle.com/view/full_story/20528041/article-Police-hosting-drug-prevention-program What partnerships is the PPD Chief involved in? What third-party organizations has he reached out to to supplement his obvious lack of knowledge in this area? Being a good leader doesn't mean you know everything, it means you know when and who to turn to to gain that knowledge. Not just ignore it and hope it goes away. Instead, this is what Plainfield is doing; http://www.cops.usdoj.gov/Publications/e04072678.pdf "Unfocused law enforcement-only approaches to dealing with drug problems are a distant last." No wonder there are so many defenders of the Plainfield Police, you don't have the perspective or knowledge to know any better. These are the same stream of commentors who think that it is not important to increase patrols for small crimes like burglary, to prevent their escalation, and honestly think this is completely unrelated to the increase in heroin crimes. Professionals address the problem with known solutions, they do not 'shoot the messenger' who is pointing out those problems.
Ernie Knight November 25, 2012 at 12:02 AM
Interesting, Tim. Again you post links which do NOT say what you purport. The links do not show an EFFECTIVE program. They do not show anything which establishes effectiveness at all. Partnerships? Like with the school district, you mean?
juan November 25, 2012 at 03:08 AM
Dare is a waste of resources..plainfield has two dare officers and a huge heroin problem which the chief refuses to address. Instead spend most of his time on other ventures...outside of the village..maybe he needs to spend more time in the village instead of out of it.every time I go to the station talk about issues in my neighborhood he's not there.waste!!!"
juan November 25, 2012 at 03:14 AM
TIM. You are hitting it right on the head!!you have my vote for Chief..it appears you have more experience than the current chief. Has this guy every worked the road...I never herd the name before being named chief..
Ron November 25, 2012 at 03:25 AM
It is working? I like all of your supporting evidence to support your claims that DARE is actually 'working'. Perhaps you should take the time to do some research on the effectiveness of DARE. A 2003 report by the U.S. General Accounting Office, now the Government Accountability Office, compiled the results of several major studies and found 'no significant differences in illicit drug use between students who received DARE in the fifth or sixth grade ... and students who did not'. http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d03172r.pdf I also like how you say 'people who scream the loudest' are the ones who do the 'least to solve it'. Who ever said it was the police department's job to raise the children in the Village? Find one poster on this site that asked for that service. Are you saying its our job as citizens to find successful educational programs for governmental bodies? As a customer, we're supposed to find a new successful business model for a failing business we're not happy with? It is people like you who are fooled by a DARE program and everything public body tells you.
Ron November 25, 2012 at 03:35 AM
You forgot to mention alcohol which is far worse than a drug like marijuana. But alcohol and the automobile is your eyes is ok right?
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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