Over the last three years there have been at least 900 heroin overdose deaths in Illinois.
It's a big number that State Representative Patti Bellock (R-Westmont) calls a “public health crisis of epic proportion.”
Now, two Illinois legislative committees are studying the growing use of heroin in Illinois and one of the more alarming findings of their studies is a trend twoard younger and younger users.
In Will County in 2000 there were just 5 cases of accidental heroin overdose deaths. By 2012 the number had skyrocketed to 46. The Will County Coronor's web site keeps updated overdose statistics.
Statistics can help understand part of the story but they can’t begin to describe the depths and consequences of a human being's dependency on this drug.
Or a community’s devastation.
In Naperville, an affluent community west of Chicago, 12 heroin deaths were reported between 2011 and 2013.
“Everybody thinks this is a charmed place to raise children, and it is a fabulous place to raise children, but there are still all these temptations,” said Diane Overgard.
Town leaders reacted and support groups like Kids Matter and Parents Matter Too began, providing answers to questions for teens and parents and making some progress.
“We have seen a decrease in the deaths and that’s terrific. But I know that heroin is still readily available,” said Overgard, who is a project manager for Parents Matter Too.
From suburban Naperville to rural Illinois the heroin epidemic ends with horrific consequences.
Two years ago, 27-year old Nicole Croissant became just one of the many faces of addiction when she first snorted heroin. It took only a couple of times ingesting the drug before she began using needle, sometimes twice a day. The cost was both physical----and financial.
“Anywhere from $20 to $300,” a day is what she says she spent on her addiction, buying her heroin on Chicago’s west side.
Like so many others, hers was a 200-mile round trip down the heroin highway, east on I-80, through rural Illinois to Chicago and back to her home in Spring Valley. Ultimately she was arrested for shoplifting to finance her habit. We met her in the Bureau County jail, in Princeton, Illinois, dressed in a blue and gray stripped jail jumpsuit one day before she was to head to a stay at a drug rehabilitation center.
We first came to Bureau County in 2005, courtesy of Tim Trevier. With piercings and a do-rag, he was an undercover officer attempting to combat a growing tide of heroin users in towns like Spring Valley and Princeton.
Today his appearance is dramatically different, in a shirt and tie, for his job as Chief Deputy.While Trevier’s appearance has changed dramatically, the issue really hasn’t. Asked if heroin use was still an epidemic his reply was, “Oh most definitely.”
Out of more than 200 heroin addicts Tim Trevier says he has to date encountered only three who have beaten their addiction.
“It is gruesome,” he said, adding “There is a chance but they’ve got to want it. They’ve got to want to change their life around.”
An attitude that applies not only to someone like Croissant, but also to an entire state.
“We didn’t try to hide it and I think that’s one of our greatest strengths, that we said yeah there is a real problem and we are going to pull together and create a real solution,” said Diane Overgard of Naperville.