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Officials call for plan to combat heroin overdoses

Waukegan IL 1/30/12 Congressman Robert Dold Sheriff Mark Curran local community leaders gathered Sheriff's Office Monday morning discuss growing heroproblem

Waukegan, IL 1/30/12 Congressman Robert Dold, Sheriff Mark Curran and local community leaders gathered at the Sheriff's Office Monday morning to discuss the growing heroin problem in Lake County. US Congressman Robert Dold makes his open remarks and asks for their stories about the increase in heroin usage in Lake County. | Rob Dicker~Sun-Times Media

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Heroin deaths

Deaths from heroin or a combination of heroin and another drug in Lake County increased from 13 in 2007 to 30 in 2008; 30 in 2009; 35 in 2010; and 34 in 2011.

Overall deaths due to drug abuse of heroin and other substances like alcohol, cocaine and prescription drugs, have increased every year since 1998.

The total substance abuse death toll was 81 in 2007; 81 in 2008; 88 in 2009; 92 in 2010; and 86 in 2011.

Source: Lake County Sheriff’s Office

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Updated: March 1, 2012 9:45AM

Mounting heroin use and deaths in Lake County and the Chicago suburbs needs to be addressed through prevention and education.

U.S. Rep. Robert Dold, R-Kenilworth, held a roundtable discussion Monday on the rise of heroin use, especially in suburban areas — an issue that has been on the radar in Lake County since overdose cases started increasing in 2007.

“We need to get on the same page and have a cohesive plan,” said Dold, “and get more parents involved.”

Sheriff Mark Curran said the roundtable was the first step to forming a task force on the topic of heroin overdoses.

Back in 2010, Roosevelt University and the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy released a report that showed more people in Chicago and its suburbs were admitted to hospital emergency rooms for heroin overdoses than any other major city and it is the most common illegal substance for which people enter drug treatment programs.

One of the roundtable participants was Kathleen Burke, chief executive officer of the Robert Crown Centers for Health Education in west suburban Hinsdale.

She said the study by Roosevelt, which recently released a study on suburban heroin users, showed that suburban heroin users are usually young white males, had little knowledge about the drug when they first used it or of its effects after short term use. The study also revealed users often substituted heroin after becoming addicted to prescription pain medications or used it to come down from cocaine highs.

Heroin today is so strong that addicts don’t need to boil it down to remove impurities and then inject the drug. Now you can snort it or smoke it because it is so pure. Lake County Coroner Artis Yancey says this makes doing the drug a form of Russian roulette.

“It’s the luck of the draw. They could die their first time or (10th time). Overdosing could happen at anytime. We’re definitely seeing that,” said Yancey.

A surprising aspect of the study found that a majority of interviewees reported little or no knowledge about heroin dependence or the withdrawal symptoms associated with it. Seventy-five percent of the respondents reported signs of mental health issues, including depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, ADHD or sensation-seeking behaviors.

“This research confirms our theory that successful heroin prevention and education efforts must be comprehensive and acknowledge the pain or dysfunction young people are trying to escape through drug use,” said Burke, adding that drug educators use neuroscience to teach teenagers about how addictive it is and what it does to the brain.

“Kids are smart and make sense of that,” she said. By lumping all drugs together without focusing in on more dangerous drugs isn’t effective. Her group has started a three-year heroin prevention initiative that focuses on sequencing education through grade levels, using authentic messengers such as past addicts of surviving family members, and having the same quality materials distributed to everyone.

She said this is not all on the schools, but should include police, health departments and the courts. Recent cuts in mental health funding by the state could make matters worse.

Another byproduct of the addictions are the increase in home and vehicle burglaries and retail thefts. Lake County Sheriff’s Chief of Operations Dave Godlewski said police can take one crew off the street and another takes their place. Nearly all are doing it to fund their addictions.

Lake County Sheriff’s Office Cmdr. Wayne Hunter said there is a drug court in Lake County, and the county jail is served by a number of programs from the outside, like 12-step programs, and through the Lake County Health Department.

The drug court program currently is at capacity with 13 or 14 active cases stretching resources to the limit.

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