A recent symposium on heroin called Will County HELPS (Heroin Education Leadership Prevention) drew a crowd of more than 450 people at Lincoln-Way Central High School. It also gave New Lenox Police Chief Bob Sterba a chance to share his philosophy on the issue.
For some people, the criminal justice arena—arrest, trial and jail time—is the only way they're going to overcome this deadly trap. Others benefit from treatment that provides counseling and coping mechanisms.
Regardless of the path toward rehabilitation, heroin is a sure path toward destruction, he said. "Heroin is in a class by itself.
"It differentiates itself from other drugs in that it literally steals your soul."
In the past year, at least three teenagers from New Lenox have died of fatal overdoses, according to the chief.
In his experience, parents are frequently stuck in the old school image of heroin users living on the margins of society. Many people don't believe that heroin has come of age; it's cleaner; it's more potent; it's easy to use. No longer are heroin users left to scour the seedy side of town to score. Heroin has moved the suburbs, and the Lincoln-Way communities are ripe for the taking.
While scoring heroin is practically painless, the addiction is far worse. Having sat in interrogation rooms with teens and their parents, Chief Sterba said he's listened through the guilt and tears. "It just breaks my heart because what happens, especially with a hard narcotic like heroin, it's (tragic.)
"Heroin becomes a way of life."
The addiction comes on so hard and so fast that it robs them of their youth. If sports or healthy activities were at all a part of their lives, those interests fade away like a ship in thick fog. Instead, the idea of living turns rather toward mere existence. "It becomes a communal experience," he said.
The users group attracts the newly addicted, who abandon former friends, family and other interests. Sterba said, "Their reason for living, for getting up every day is to score."
The heroin crowd is comprised of three types, said the chief:
- The people who buy heroin for their own use.
- The people who sell heroin to support their own addiction.
- The people who just deal it.
How can the police help?
At the symposium, Sterba told the crowd that he was committed to helping the community in any way he could to get the drop on heroin. For the parents who come face-to-face with this issue, he said, the reality that heroin has come to their doorstep is devastating. But don't let fear of the police or embarrassment take control of a deadly situation.
Admittedly, it takes a mountain of courage to pick up the phone and call the police when heroin use is suspected within the family or among friends. Do it anyway, he said. The police can assist families in taking that first step toward getting treatment for a heroin user.
If coming down to the police station is too overwhelming, he said, it's not necessary. "If it better suits you, I'll go to your home, sit at your kitchen table."
A police officer for decades, Sterba understands that people don't want to get law enforcement involved. "We live in a culture that says don't rat out your friends. But if you don't rat them out, you go to their funeral."
It's that serious, said Sterba.
Admitting the problem
Sterba said the Drug Court Program facilitated by the Will County State's Attorney's Office is good. It's a tough program.
Personally speaking, he said, "I don't always think law enforcement is the answer. I believe in plowing money into other things, drug rehabilitation and counseling. For some arrest is the only answer, but it's not for everybody.
"I guess there's no one-size-fits-all. It's a difficult society we live in, a coarser society. Drugs are seen as trendy and (they're) accepted in our culture. The thing is there's no future in it."