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Lake County heroin forum: ‘It’s cheaper than beer and weed now’

The increasing number herooverdose deaths across county motivated Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran host drug forum Sept. 23 ElArePublic Library

The increasing number of heroin overdose deaths across the county motivated Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran to host a drug forum Sept. 23 at the Ela Area Public Library in Lake Zurich. | Laura Pavin/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 2, 2013 3:34PM

Francisco Franco recently tried to talk to his students at the College of Lake County about the increasing number of drug overdose deaths across the county, but his students were unaware of the worrisome trend.

The number of heroin and cocaine overdose deaths has more than doubled in the last six years, according to data from Lake County Coroner Dr. Thomas Rudd.

The issue spurred multiple agencies across the county to develop an opioid prevention strategy. It also motivated Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran to host a forum Sept. 23 at the Ela Area Public Library in Lake Zurich.

Franco, a CLC business teacher who lives in Mundelein, was among the speakers, saying he thinks a lack of awareness about heroin is part of the problem. He lost his 25-year-old grandson to the drug in February.

Dale Novarro, a corrections sergeant with the Lake County Sheriff’s Department, told attendees that his son has been battling addiction for seven years.

Despite 30 years of law enforcement experience, Novarro explained that it was easy to come up with excuses for the signs his son was exhibiting, including bloodshot eyes, poor hygiene and slurred speech.

“At one point, my son was my little baby — he’s 26 years old and he’s still my little baby,” Novarro said. “The excuses I made up... it’s scary because no one wants to confront their kids about drugs.”

But parents must, he said.

Heroin has become much cheaper, more potent and easier to purchase in the last decade, Novarro said. The majority of the 34 Opioid-related deaths in Lake County so far this year have been heroin overdoses.

“Heroin is $8 to $10 a bag — it’s cheaper than beer and weed now,” Novarro said.

Since the heroin is more potent, Novarro said the drug is now often ingested by snorting and smoking. The elimination of needles has made heroin more attractive to younger users, he said.

But the high potency also makes it much easier to overdose.

Speakers at the drug forum pointed out that the issue has become a more significant issue in the suburbs than the city of Chicago.

According to the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy, hospital discharges for heroin use among 20 to 24 year olds has increased for collar counties by more than 200 percent. Heroin overdose deaths have spiked in the suburbs, too.

Officials reported that from 2007 to 2011 heroin-related deaths have increased by 115 percent in Lake County; 100 percent in Will County; and 50 percent in McHenry County.

Novarro said Mexican cartels supply about 80 percent of the $3 billion worth of drugs that make it every year to the Chicago area, which has become the Midwestern distribution hub for street gangs.

To buy the drug, users previously drove down Interstate 290, dubbed the “heroin highway.” But Novarro said it’s become easier to buy locally through gang-affiliated dealers.

“We maybe have 1,100 cops in Lake County, and 8,000 to 10,000 gang members in Lake County,” said Novarro, who was a gang member before joining the Marines and turning his life around.

Curran said that sheriff’s department is committed to slowing the spread of drugs and gangs. A task force of local agencies is going after the drug supply, leading an educational campaign and alerting children to the dangers of drugs and gangs, he said.

“Prevention is key for the younger ones,” Franco said. “We need to get it through to them through the churches and schools.”

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