Heroin use is an "epidemic," threatening youths in suburban communities, DuPage County State's Attorney Bob Berlin said Monday. The answer, he said: education.
Berlin was one of six featured speakers Monday who provided information on the increasingly popular drug and advice for parents to help prevent their children from using it at the Wheaton Police Department's Heroin Epidemic Forum.
Jason Scott, leading narcotics agent in the Wheaton Police Department, told attendees that heroin use in Wheaton is on the rise.
From 2008 to 2011, there were five heroin-related overdoses in Wheaton, he said. In 2012, there were 10, and there has been one in 2013.
Berlin said in 2012, there were 37 heroin-related overdose deaths in DuPage County and 27 in 2011.
Claudia Evenson, director of outreach services for Rosecrance Health Network, John Roberts, Co-founder of the Heroin Epidemic Relief Organization (HERO), Kathleen Burke, CEO of the Robert Crown Center for Health Education and an area mother, who's son is now six months sober from heroin, also spoke at the forum.
Heroin is different from any other drug because it is so "horribly addictive," Berlin said. He added, in addition to its accessibility and low price, heroin has become more common in recent years because people have begun to smoke and snort it, rather than inject it with a needle.
Scott said there is a social stigmatism to injecting heroin. He said kids—in middle school, high school or older—believe the rumor that heroin is not as addictive if they snort it.
He urged parents to talk to their kids—to question them and communicate with them, and to look for signs of drug use such as changes in personality, appetite, social circles, grades, mood or sleep habits.
"Be that parent that actually talks to your kids and don't think your kids are not going to be the kids that are going to try it."
Berlin urged parents to focus on their child's safety over their privacy by monitoring their cell phone and internet use.
"The biggest thing is cell phones. You’ve got to know what your kids are doing with their cell phones because that’s everything."
Burke joined the Robert Crown Center for Health Education in July 2005. She has introduced an intensive collaborative effort to create a new model of health education that is relevant, sustainable and effective for both children and their influencers.
She said Monday that schools do not have much current knowledge about heroin addiction because it's new, and stressed the following points of advice with parents:
- Parents should educate themselves about heroin, addiction and why kids use.
- Parents should communicate with their children about drug use.
- Parents should network with others to talk about an existing drug problem. Talking openly, she said, can help to reduce the stigma and allow people to work toward a solution.
Sharon Herrero, an instructional assistant in District 200 and mother of three, said she thinks there is denial of a drug problem in middle and upper class communities. She said that while she talks with her kids about drugs, parents couldn't be with their kids all the time.
"They still choose sometimes to do things... You can't put it past any of us for anything to happen," she said.
A Clarendon Hills mother of two, who asked to keep her name anonymous, spoke about her experience with her son's heroin addiction. On Wednesday, he will hit the six-month mark of sobriety.
"My 18-year-old son is a middle-class, good looking, well-educated, athletic honor roll student. He also represents the new face of heroin addiction," she said.
His drug use started with pot, a drug most people think is harmless, she said.
"I watched my son go from a strong, healthy young man to a frail, isolated, depressed little boy in a matter of months. He lost a lot of weight. He lost friends. His skin was gray, his eyes, lifeless. He slept all the time," she said.
"Had I not followed my gut and searched his room when I felt something was off, he may not be here today."