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DuPage County Experts Discuss Surge of Heroin Abuse

DuPage County experts say we're not doing enough to educate communities about opiate addiction. First in a recurring series.

Panelists discuss surge in DuPage County heroin abuse at Yellow Box Community Christian Church in Naperville. Mark Piccoli, director of DuMEG, activist Karen Hanneman and Jim Scarpace, of the Gateway Foundation Treatment Center.
Panelists discuss surge in DuPage County heroin abuse at Yellow Box Community Christian Church in Naperville. Mark Piccoli, director of DuMEG, activist Karen Hanneman and Jim Scarpace, of the Gateway Foundation Treatment Center.

When Beacon News columnist Denise Crosby first began reporting on heroin ten years ago, her newspaper started following kids from DuPage County suburbs into Chicago where they were procuring heroin from gang members.

At that time, Crosby’s nephew was also in the throes of heroin addiction.

“Thankfully, he has overcome it and is doing great now,” she said. “That was about the same time my nephew was struggling with it. We wrote some stories and that was it.”

Then a couple of years ago, Crosby and her colleagues started seeing weird things going on just from the perspective of the newsroom. Heroin was back.

“Kids were o.d.’ing and it was kind of weird, so we started writing about it,” Crosby said. "We got a lot of flack for doing it because you’re putting things out there that we don’t want to talk about in our communities.”

Crosby started talking to parents, not just the ones whose children died from heroin, but parents whose kids we’re on it, “so we just kept writing and writing about it.”

“I know way too many Naperville parents,” she said. “I should not know that many parents, but the majority I know have kids struggling with it and they are good people and their kids are good people, and it’s just not in DuPage County either.”

The newspaper columnist was one on a panel of experts that took part in a wide ranging discussion about the surge of heroin use in the Fox Valley at Christian Community Church in Naperville on Monday morning.

The upshot: There is a lot more we can be doing as a community to educate ourselves and give addicts a fighting chance to recover.

In the grim calculus of heroin abuse, over the last year and a half, DuPage County has recorded one heroin death every 8.5 days, with over 87 heroin deaths documented within the county within the last 24 months, according to county public health statistics.

“Most people I know that I work with in treatment don’t choose to give up their families or risk their lives,” Jim Scarpace said, executive director for the Gateway Foundation treatment center in Aurora. 

“Individuals who struggle with dependence or in therapy will certainly tell you that all the negative repercussions that they struggle with everyday feels like its beyond their control and part of who they are," Scarpace continued, "that is hard for them to separate from it.”

While Crosby joked during the round table about CNN’s recent series about the nationwide heroin epidemic and its death toll of young lives, “like CNN just discovered this big problem,” she stressed that every media outlet needs to be reporting and educating the public about heroin.

“We have to stop making heroin overdose and kids or anybody on heroin or with an opiate addiction into a stigma,” Crosby said. “The stigma has to be taken away and the more we put it in a headline and the more we write about it, the less it becomes a stigma. Let’s get it out there and save lives.”

Over the next several weeks, Patch will be visiting the issue of heroin abuse across the Chicago region and its impact on communities, speaking to addicts and former addicts, families, public health officials, counselors and law enforcement.

We won't pretend that we just discovered the heroin problem, but we'll certainly do our part to build awareness.

Next in the series: “Naloxone -- the ‘Lazarus Drug’”


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Naabt Dotorg February 26, 2014 at 07:36 AM
Get help for heroin and painkiller addictions in a doctor’s office with the prescription medication buprenorphine. Go to TreatmentMatch.org - a nonprofit organization providing a free and confidential way to find certified doctors who can help. Learn more about bupe at naabt.org

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