Will County Circuit Judge Ray Nash doesn't mind being considered tough or rough in the eyes of those who come before him on a heroin related charge. Nash joined a panel discussion Sept. 27 at Will County HELPS symposium on heroin at Lincoln-Way Central High School. He told a crowd of 450-plus that he will do everything in his power to beat back the silent killer, heroin, from robbing the current generation of teens and young adults of productive lives.
Heroin is no longer a drug reserved for the back alley; it's accessible and plentiful in the suburbs. A former prosecutor for the Will County State's Attorney Jim Glasgow's Office, Nash took the lead as chief of the gang crimes division some 25 years ago. In those days, "we were behind" on the spread of gang violence, and it took time to gain control of the situation.
He likens the current "heroin epidemic" to those days when he was working with law enforcement officials to clamp-down on the gangs. The difference here is two-fold:
- The team of Will County HELPS and its affiliated law enforcement agencies has learned from the past. Court-mandated jail time combined with addiction treatment goes hand-in-hand. He urged parents and the adult community as a whole to stop being friends with kids in trouble. "We have to take appropriate action to break the barrier between the law and the courts." He told the crowd to "take the high ground. Talk to police; it's not telling; it's saving somebody's life."
- The gangs have to be reined in before they trap kids into a life-long struggle with addictions. Law enforcement agencies are moving to dry-up a ready source of profit for the gangs. Still, he said, this fight with heroin won't be won without a community committed to staying on top of dealers and users.
Nash applauded Danielle H., a recovering heroin addict who spoke about the reality of living with an addiction. "I've never seen anyone make it 18 months (sober and clean from a heroin addiction.) I see them get to three, six, nine or 12 months, but then they relapse.
"This is super heroin. The numbers (of addictions and users) are not only increasing; they're growing exponentially. …We need to get ahead of this tsunami," he said.
Consequently, Nash is moving in the courtroom to link heroin dealing with the notion of homicide. A dealer is responsible for destroying a life, he said. Addiction is a "ball and chain. (It's) years and decades of enslavement."
Prevention programs should paint an accurate picture of the consequences of a drug conviction. A discussion about the hard-core facts of the legal and life-long ramifications of a felony heroin-related conviction is seen by the judge as a decisive step.
Kids have to realize that "it's a felony. You're never going to get a job. (This conviction) will dog you for the rest of your life. Young people don't understand the consequences."
Find out how Drug Court is helping to turn around the lives of hard-core heroin addicts in Patch's upcoming story in the series on heroin.