A growing number of fatal heroin overdoses, and a rise in teen use in particular, has Will County officials reaching out to create awareness.
Last week, the county launched a public awareness campaign called Heroin Education Leads to Preventative Solutions, or Will County Helps. The group is working on a blueprint to provide information to schools and parents across the county.
“This is an issue of tremendous concern,” State Attorney spokesman Chuck Pelkie, said to Shorewood Patch. “This is no longer the junkie shooting up in a basement. High school teens have access to it and it is the drug of choice for teens from affluent families and communities.”
According to the county coroner, there were 28 heroin-related deaths in 2011. So far in 2012 there have been eight. Will County Helps has already issued a series of public service announcements, and plans are under way for a community forum and a youth rally in April.
Recently, law enforcement agencies have warned the public about an increased availability of heroin and a purer form that’s on the market. Circuit Court Judge Ray Nash begins each local court hearing with a lecture on heroin. Many people are there for other drug charges, such as marijuana, but he wants to drive home the point. He tells stories of area parents in Mokena and New Lenox Township who lost their teenage children to heroin overdoses.
“This isn’t the heroin of the ‘70s,” he said during a hearing last year. “This is much more dangerous.”
Following recent overdose cases where heroin may have been involved, District 230 administrators in Orland Park sent a letter to parents asking for their help and awareness. Robo calls also were made with principals reading the message.
The letter, sent by Supt. James Gay, asked parents to talk directly with their children about drug use. The letter mentioned resources on the district's website, as well as information on guidance departments when added help is needed.
Read “Talk About Heroin Now, Avoid an Epidemic Later”
Lincoln-Way High School District Supt. Larry Wyllie said the district hasn’t communicated with parents about the issue of heroin, though he’s aware it’s being used in the teen community.
“It’s a zero tolerance policy here,” Wyllie said. “If we know about it, they’re gone.”
The Will County group wants to speak at schools in the area to talk about the fatal impact of the drug. Commander Kevin Keegan of the Frankfort Police Department said heroin arrests have gone up in the Lincoln-Way area, but didn't have specific numbers.
What he's seen is that the taboo surrounding heroin use—the fact that you had to inject it—has gone away now that people are snorting it more and more. You don't get the same kind of high from it, but that use is becoming more popular in the area.
Because of this area's geographic location, with major feeder routes like U.S. Route 30 and Interstate 80, the village accounts for a lot of its drug arrests from people traveling through the area.
"Do we have any type of major type of dealing that I'm aware of? No," Keegan said. "But you can get it (heroin) from other surrounding areas."
The prevalence of heroin in the Will County area hasn't been discussed in the Frankfort Police Department, but it has been brought up at police chief and detective meetings, especially as it relates to how authorities can go about educating youth.
"A lot of it has to start from home," Keegan said.
—Joe Vince and Ben Feldheim contributed to this report.