Heroin use among high school students in Illinois remains a growing problem, according to the draft of a legislative task force studying the issue.
The statewide epidemic of heroin use touches kids as young as the eighth grade, the report notes.
Most of the heroin in the state comes from Mexico, which has seen its drug production increase by 600 percent in the last decade. The heroin can be 100 percent pure, which means a faster high and a quicker addiction.
According to the report from 2011 to 2012, heroin-related deaths in DuPage County increased from 26 to 42; in Will County from 30 to 53; in McHenry County from 9 to 16 and in Kane County from 9 to 27.
The report calls for more intense education among high school students as to the addictive nature of the drug and more emphasis on getting rid of legal prescriptions in a family's drug cabinet that can be a gateway to heroin addiction.
In Naperville, which sits in DuPage County and has been hard hit by the heroin epidemic, police have positioned 11 collection boxes for residents to safely dispose of their unused prescription drugs.
"We are trying to make it easier for residents to turn in these prescription drugs that end up hang around in medicine cabinets," said police chief Robert Marshall.
For the past two years, Marshall and residents have been trying to come to grips with a problem few saw coming.
"Heroin has surpassed cocaine as the number one illegal drug we are dealing with here in Naperville," Marshall said.
"Heroin came into our sphere of influence like a thief," said IdaLynn Wenhold, Executive Director of KidsMatter. "Kids lives we found were out of balance," she said after several heroin overdose deaths in the wealthy suburb.
Experts, like Wenhold, cite three key stressors for teens that can lead to drug addiction:
- Competition in academics, athletics and material things.
- Over involvement in activities.
- Perfectionism as opposed to personal best.
"We found those stressors were actually leading to drug and alcohol abuse, depression, thoughts of suicide," Wenhold said.
The drug collection boxes were set up in Naperville earlier this year, and according to Chief Marshall, 17 pounds of legal, unused prescription drugs were turned in to just one collection box during a recent two-week period.
"Kids take this medication, thinking it's safe, prescribed by a doctor, and then they gateway into heroin once their supply of pharmaceuticals runs out," said state Rep. Sam Yingling, who chairs the Young Adult Heroin Use Task Force. "So we need to start educating our kids here that this is an incredibly deadly drug," he said.
Marshall says parents should be assertive and inquisitive with children, checking for changes in behavior, new and unusual friendships and missing items, which can be sold to purchase drugs.
His town, he said, is part of the heroin epidemic. And others agree.
"There is no Naperville bubble. There is none. All of our kids are vulnerable," said Wenhold. "There's no limit to race, ethnicity, income level, they are all vulnerable. "