Heroin Use in Naperville Teens Should Be No Surprise

This mom thinks it's time to take the village out of our view of Naperville

Last week I was worried about sex. This week, it’s drugs. As the parent of a teenager, the arrest of a Naperville high schooler for selling heroin set my mom radar on high alert. I’m not alone.

Media across the area reported on the arrest and residents commented. I found a puzzling pattern in the comments; people can’t believe that “something like this” can happen in Naperville.

I’m surprised that so many area residents are surprised. Naperville may once have been a quaint, isolated little hamlet beside the DuPage River, but those days are long gone.

There are more than 145,000 people living here. Our neighbor, Aurora, is home to nearly 200,000 people. Together, the two cities comprise the largest metropolitan area outside of Chicago. So, while Naperville’s downtown is still quaint, our city is hardly a hamlet.

There are five public high schools serving more than 15,450 students in our two school districts. Call me a cynic, but there are bound to be drug problems with a teen population that large.

It’s comforting to think, as some who’ve commented on the heroin problem have, that “gangs from Chicago” are bringing the drugs to our children. According to the Naperville police, though, it’s our children who are going to the drugs. No one is forcing our children to do heroin; they want it so much they will hop on 88 and drive an hour to get it.

Heroin use caused seven deaths in Naperville last year. That’s a tragedy, no matter what age the victims were. But the focus on teen heroin use is obscuring a greater problem. Nationally, more of our children are smoking marijuana. In fact, while cigarette smoking is on the decline among teens, marijuana use is on the rise and what the kids are smoking is much more powerful than the stuff sold years ago.

The fastest growing drug problem, though, is abuse of prescription drugs. Most teens get their first prescription high free—from the medicine cabinet at home—but the cost gets steep when stealing is no longer practical. Heroin costs a lot less than prescription drugs and is actually easier to get.

More than one person responding to stories on our heroin problem felt the police needed to do more to keep drugs out of our children’s hands. To me, that smacks of scapegoating. Kids get drugs because they want them.

Parents are the first line of defense in keeping kids from wanting to get high. We have to stop being surprised that children here—or anywhere—are doing drugs. We need to start talking and keep talking. We can’t just sit the kids down one day, lay down the law and expect them to, as one parent I know said, “Never do drugs.” We need to do simple things together, like sitting down to dinner, that show our children we care about them and what they are doing. 

l j miller February 20, 2012 at 12:50 PM
Radar alert for Naperville drug use is generations too late. Current and former Naperville's students who are now 40 and 50 years old should give testimony to the existence then. Naperville put their head in the sand and chose to appear picture perfect, it was ugly then and uglier now.
Janice Lindegard February 20, 2012 at 01:28 PM
Thanks for weighing in. We have only lived in Napervile for six years, so I can't attest to what was going on 40 to 50 years ago.
Bonnie Reiss February 20, 2012 at 03:39 PM
Drugs are a big problem everywhere and when you have more disposable income, you have more of an opportunity to purchase. Naperville needs to heavily consider serious and best practice prevention programs for drug use and suicide prevention. Yes; I agree with I.J. Miller - Naperville has had its head in the sand too long!
Stephanie Seil February 20, 2012 at 04:20 PM
I think you are so right on with your comments and observations. Straight talk and spending time with your kids is key. Not sitting them in front of the TV or video games!!!!
A Concerned Mother February 20, 2012 at 04:42 PM
If Naperville has had it's head in the sand, then Hinsdale, LaGrange, LaGrange Park....the list goes on and on...should also get a shovel. How many people were pronounced dead last week in emergency rooms of heroin overdoses? Or a better question, how many overdosed people were seen and dispatched from the emergency rooms? And 88? We have the heroin highway in our backyard; 290 takes users right to the source. Not a bunch of addicts on the West side; just people trying to make a dollar by selling dope to the suburbanites driving through the hood. Heroin is cheaper than pot. Yep, you read that right. And needles? Go to Walgreens. No body could know the extent of the addiction problems in the burbs. Ask one of the many parents that have BURIED a child due to heroin use, and they may even tell you THEY didn't know there was a heroin problem, here, in 2012.
Janice Lindegard February 20, 2012 at 05:26 PM
We're having a number of conversations in our house about drug use and the idea of needing money has come up more than once. Our son gets a weekly allowance based on his age ($1 per year of age). Out of that, he's expected to pay for his drum sticks, guitar strings, school activities, etc. He didn't go to Turnabout because he couldn't afford the ticket. I felt bad about him missing out, but better about him making the sacrifice because he couldn't afford it. I'm not a model parent, but I'm stunned by how much the kids here have. My daughter's nine-year-old friends have iPhone 4s phones. That's insane! She has a phone and we share minutes. That's plenty for now, I think. My son chips in for the unlimited texting.
Janice Lindegard February 20, 2012 at 05:30 PM
Bonnie, I think you are so right about suicide prevention. I haven't done any research into this idea, but I wonder how much drug abuse we could prevent if we took mental health seriously starting at young ages. There should be no stigma attached to mental health issues. We treat diabetes, heart conditions, high blood pressure and other chronic diseases with compassion. We don't have the same attitude toward mental illness, even still. I'd love to see that change, but I'm not hopeful it will any time soon.
Janice Lindegard February 20, 2012 at 05:32 PM
It is really hard to spend time with your kids, though I've never had a problem with the straight talk. I work evenings and am currently spending weekends helping to care for my father, who is very ill. We are managing to get our whole family together for dinner four nights each week but it's a struggle. I will admit that they do their share of vegging in front of a screen, though.
Janice Lindegard February 20, 2012 at 05:35 PM
Concerned mother, thanks so much for sharing. I knew the teen years were going to be a challenge when they got here, but I wasn't really prepared for how much bone-deep worry I'd experience. It can be overwhelming. I take it one day at a time, keep my mouth and mind open and make sure my son knows exactly where his father and I stand on doing drugs, having sex and the myriad other dangers he's running up against.
Jim Smith February 20, 2012 at 08:17 PM
I'm always intrigued by the notion that just because someone recently became aware of a problem, that means that A) Others were not aware of it, and; B) Nothing has been done about it. It's as if history begins upon our awareness. We see this most often among liberals.
Janice Lindegard February 20, 2012 at 08:58 PM
Jim, it is puzzling to me, too, how problems as pervasive as drug abuse among teens can surprise so many people when they happen in our own back yards. Don't really get how that relates to one's political views, though. Thanks for your comment.
Dee February 20, 2012 at 09:30 PM
Drug use has gone on for years. It's in each school;every neighborhood. Pay attention to your children and their friends. Be involved parents and share interests together. Have conversations, don't be too negative, guide, listen and enjoy one another. Yes, much is given to children. It doesn't mean you have to match it all. Remember .... morals and values are learned at home.
Janice Lindegard February 20, 2012 at 09:45 PM
Dee, thanks for your wise comments. Yes, yes, we really do need to be involved with our children and share interests. I'm kind of a fanatic about dinner together, but it really does have kind of a magic quality to it. Some of the funniest and strongest bonding moments we've shared have been at the dinner table. It gets harder and harder to know all of my kids friends, though. I'm sure my son thinks I'm nosy, but so be it!
LuvMyThreeKids February 21, 2012 at 03:43 PM
94 heroin-related deaths in 2011 for Will, DuPage and Lake Counties combined. 7 of those, from Naperville is too many but, I'm very proud to be the city "talking about it". Finger pointing and "heads in the sand" comments serve absolutely no productive purpose. We get it...The 15,450 students that attend our schools come from all socioeconomic backgrounds, family "situations" and cultures. Not every student lives in a nurturing home that can or will have dinner together, even though we know they should. Some families are struggling financially. Some adults are struggling with their own addictions. Students who attend our schools, live on the front lines, so to speak. They don't want to see friends die. They just want to be kids. Many experience overwhelming grief, that goes unaddressed simply because it's difficult and adults don't always understand it. They DO need to look out for one another, because they put peers ahead of adults. We, as adults must guide our children and prepare them for the day they will have to make a choice about substances. We should also provide an environment where our students feel good about helping fellow students, who are struggling, needlessly. No name calling or finger pointing...instead guidance and compassion. I hope everyone who comments here, calls their local high school or police department, and volunteers to help in the effort to support all students and minimize substance abuse in society.
Janice Lindegard February 21, 2012 at 04:36 PM
LuvMyThreeKids, great insights. Yes, this is a highly diverse area. I think we'd be surprised at how many families really are struggling financially; it's not just the people that "look" like it. I mentioned dinner together because it's something any family can strive for, not just those that are financially secure. Even three dinners each week has an effect on whether or not kids succeed in school and whether or not they do drugs. There is much research that shows parental drug abuse increases the likelihood that kids will also abuse drugs. There are so many organizations here that are eager to help anyone who is struggling with drug addiction. In addition to high schools and the police department, there are volunteer opportunities through the county, churches and others. For example, the "Snow" programs conducted by 360 Youth Services (formerly NCO Youth and Family Services are well-known in the area.
Julie February 23, 2012 at 04:23 PM
I am baffled why everyone avoids the subject of the co-ed parties and sleepovers that are often given with parental knowledge. We can't blame it all on the children when there are parents who are teaching their kids that this is okay. That is why Naperville police had to create a law that will arrest the parents if they find drinking in the house.
Jim Smith February 23, 2012 at 06:10 PM
Is everyone avoiding that aspect of the situation? I don't see any evidence that any poster here claims that parents play no role roles in the problem. THAT would be denial. Just because no one has (out of what, a dozen posts) mentioned every single aspect of the situation - that doesn't mean we're avoiding it.
Janice Lindegard February 23, 2012 at 06:33 PM
Many municipalities now have laws that place responsibility for teen drinking in one's home on the homeowner. I may write about teen drinking in the future, but I was addressing drug use in this column and, specifically, the idea that it's a surprise that heroin is available and used in Naperville. I think we all agree that many parents are unaware of what their teens are doing.
Alli February 24, 2012 at 06:54 AM
i go to neuqua and i have seen my childhood friends disepate throughout my highschool. Everything became a competition, including drug use. Things quickly got out of hand and all of a sudden these beautiful, amazing souls became zombies. Seeing my brother on a hospital bed 2 yrs ago very close to death scarred me for life i've seen way too much for my age and i believe changes must be made, we need to come together and support eachother as peers in a positive way! The judgements and materialism have driven this place to the ground. We've gotta come together & make a change for the better.
Janice Lindegard February 24, 2012 at 12:41 PM
Alli, thank you so much for sharing. I'm sorry you've known so much pain so early in your life. My son and his friends do not go to Neuqua, but they have said again and again that Neuqua has a terrible drug problem. I hope the community can come together. Are there programs going on at the school that students are involved in? I don't think adults saying "don't do drugs" seems to have much effect. You are absolutely right that there needs to be a joint effort to effect change.
Alli February 24, 2012 at 08:53 PM
The only thing i've known of so far is the presentation at the library about a week ago. I want to speak to the health classes and reach out to kids because I was in their shoes about a year ago and I think that maybe if they heard someone in their age group talk about it who has experienced dealing with heroin addicts then maybe that would help prevent people from doing it. I also want to start getting a group together and host weekly talent shows so we can bond over our talents & actually support each other!
Janice Lindegard February 24, 2012 at 10:13 PM
Those are amazing ideas! Good luck with them. If you'd like to keep me posted, I'd love to write about your efforts. I love the idea of talent shows as a way of gathering positively. Best of luck to you!
JustSayIt February 25, 2012 at 05:17 PM
I'm also a freshmen at Neuqua, and yes, we do have drug problems. In every grade. I have friends that do it, and my own brother does it. Theres a lot of reasons why kids would use drugs, but one reason that I tend to note often is the desire to fit in. The stoners and 'druggies' have a reputation of being 'badass' and everyone wants to be badass. I know a lot of kids who drink and do drugs just because everyone else is doing it, even though they don't want to admit. And then I have seen a lot of parents who are pushovers and would rather be the friend instead of the parent. I have a single mother who works monday through friday, leaves at 7, usually comes home no earlier than 6:30pm. If I really wanted to be a rebel, i could take her trust and do whatever, because her being at work leaves me plenty of time to do what I want, but I don't. My mom makes it clear that she is not hear to be my buddy, and I have learned and respected that. I know one girl in my grade who just had a party. Alcohol and drugs were there, kids were drunk and puking everywhere in the basement, and here is the icing on the cake...her 'mom' was there the whole time. So in my opinion, the mom had to be a pushover or not the brightest cookie on the block if she couldn't even get a hint of what was going on in her own house. It amazes me how kids have no respect and abuse the trust of their parents. And it amazes me how the parents are so easy-going to.
Janice Lindegard February 25, 2012 at 07:34 PM
JustSayIt, thanks for commenting. That's a really stunning story about the party. When I was a teen, my house was where the kids would congregate after events, but my mom was there! She was awake, talking to the kids, making eggs and toast for everyone. No alcohol. No drugs. It's really hard to be the "bad cop" all the time and I guess I understand parents who are very lenient, but I'm not one. We're dealing with trust issues here in our house all the time!


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