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Biggert, Officials: Battling Heroin Epidemic Begins With Education

U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert joined local officials Monday night in hosting a heroin prevention and education forum at North Central College's Wentz Concert Hall.

Heroin. Just the word alone can be intimidating to hear. But for many teens in Naperville and surrounding communities, it has .

Read More on Patch's "Heroin: Naperville's Drug Reality" Page

and a that followed, parents and officials are becoming well aware of the drug’s popularity and dangers. 

“Heroin abuse has reached alarming levels in Naperville and in our communities throughout the past year,” said U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert Monday night at a heroin forum at . “We must stop heroin use in its tracks before warning signs turn into body bags.”

Biggert was one of nine panelists to speak at last night’s event focusing on heroin prevention and education. Along with DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin, detectives from the were also on hand to discuss heroin’s grip on the city.

“It’s the only thing that’s killing young people, or any people, on a large scale in town,” said Naperville Police Detective Shaun Ferguson.

Not only is it killing young people, but the drug is being used by younger and younger age groups. Ferguson said the youngest known heroin user in Naperville is 15-years-old.

With its cheap price, ten bucks a hit, and easy accessibility; heroin attracts many different age groups, he added. So far this year, 19 heroin-related arrests have been made, five of those being heroin dealers. The oldest arrested was 42 and the youngest a 17-year-old.

Police said whether it’s armed robberies or car burglaries, 98 percent of crime in Naperville is drug-related.

“You might have had ten dollars in change taken from your car in the driveway, but to someone that’s a hit of heroin,” said Naperville Police Detective Michael Umbenhower.

Umbenhower said he’s also seen a among girls, as it is an easy way to make money to pay for the drug.

Kids don’t have to make a big leap or travel very far to get hooked. Many new users are being introduced to drugs through the medicine cabinet at home. Prescription drugs like Oxycodone and Vicodin are some of the most common prescription opiates, officials said.

The intimidation heroin used to bring doesn’t play as much as a factor anymore since it is generally snorted or smoked today.

“It doesn’t have that fear of the needle,” said Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Owen Putman. “It’s much less intimidating for new users.”

Putman said heroin seizures and the number of users throughout the Chicago area has increased dramatically since 2008. The drug predominately comes into the United States from Southeast Asia, as well as Afghanistan and Mexico.

As far as the cartel members that produce drugs like heroin, “they are sophisticated, well financed, well organized and they are ruthless,” Putman said.

Chicago serves as a major hub for drug distribution by street gangs, and Naperville teens have been known to utilize Interstate 88, or the “heroin highway,” as an access route to go and purchase it.

However, this year police have seen a change in tactics. Users are hiding it in better places, using it quickly and not bringing it back to Naperville from Chicago as well as using Metra trains instead of cars to get there.

In order to put a stop to these tactics and teen heroin use altogether, officials stressed that the overall theme in prevention is education.

“We cannot stress how important it is for parents to be united, to stick together,” Ferguson said. “Stick to accountability and set limits.”

Biggert said Naperville has already taken the necessary steps in addressing the problem with community forums like the one held on Monday night, but more can be done.

“It’s really great that this community, instead of trying to hide the fact that this is happening, to be outfront and make sure everyone knows that there is a problem,” Biggert said. “The most powerful weapon we have is education.”

Parents who want more information can visit www.timetotalk.org or www.drugfreeworld.com.

Read More on Patch's "Heroin: Naperville's Drug Reality" Page

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