Coalition hosts heroin forum

Pam Monson

    As Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow was listening to the speakers at last week's heroin forum organized by the Wilmington Coalition for a Healthy Community, he received confirmation of the 77th heroin overdose death in Will County for 2016. It's a new record, and one that's not acceptable to county leaders.
    The forum was held Thursday evening at the Wilmington Middle School It was attended by about 100 people, many of them there is support of people who have struggled with addiction. The event focused on educating the public about the dangers of trying heroin even once, and making resources accessible to those who need them.
    Heroin is a highly addictive opioid drug with a high risk of overdose and death for users - particularly now when it's being laced with fentanyl. Dr. Raymond Maceren noted that people who are addicted to doctor-prescribed opioid pain killers are 40 times more likely to be addicted to heroin when they can no longer get their prescriptions filled. Sometimes, the path to addiction starts at the family medicine chest.
    “A source of addiction for young people exists in your own home, in your own bathroom medicine chest,” said Will County Executive Larry Walsh. He has used his office to build awareness about the dangers of heroin use, and develop ways to counteract it.
    He created Heroin Education Leads to Preventative Solutions (HELPS), partnered with the Robert Crown Center to bring anti-drug education to local schools and obtained grants to reduce the number of overdose deaths in the county. But he says there's much more to do before heroin becomes a forgotten drug.
    “Heroin doesn't give you a second chance. Once you try it you are addicted. Heroin is the most addictive drug on the scene now,” said Walsh.
    Southwestern Will County has the highest per capita rate of death by heroin overdose in the county and every year it gets worse, said Will County Associate Judge Ray Nash.
    “It's a horrific rate, much higher than the rest of the county,” he said.
    The county had a half dozen fatalities per year at the beginning of the century, and 53 in 2012 - a 1,000 percent increase in the decade.
    “We killed far more people in this county than all the murders and all the traffic accidents combined,” Judge Nash said. County officials thought surely, the county incidence of heroin deaths crested and would decline. But that hasn't been the case, and the number of accidental overdoses attributed to heroin climbed each year, reaching 77 in 2016.
    “It's is certainly an epidemic, it is certainly a criminal problem, and we hear the phrase will we certainly can't arrest our way out of this problem, Nash said. “That's true, but we can't not arrest our way out of this problem. It is an organized crime problem, it is a gang problem, it's a public health problem, it's an economic problem. It is all these things and must be attacked that way.”
    The long-term solution, Judge Nash said, is prevention. Perhaps the message is getting out, because last year, only four of those who died from a heroin overdose in 2016 were under 21 years of age.
    State's Attorney Glasgow has implemented groundbreaking initiatives to investigate, prosecute and prevent crime, including the drug court program and veterans court. His leading enforcement initiatives help people kick their deadly addiction to heroin.
    Glasgow said he has a bill pending in the state legislature that would allow an individual to walk into a police station, hand over up to 10 grams of heroin to a police officer and ask for treatment. The individual has to be referred to a licensed treatment provider. There will also be a process for destroying the drugs that are surrendered.
    Drug court participant Isabelle got her first dose of heroin from her little brother. She never thought she was an addict. Isabelle went through drug court once, but didn't take her recovery seriously. She lost contact with recovery resources. She relapsed.
    She started using again. She couldn't stop, not after being arrested, not even when she got pregnant.
    “It's not that I didn't love my child,” she said. “The way heroin affects your mind; there is no decision making.”
    She was lucky, and was able to get back into the drug court program. She won't graduate until the end of the year, but has a hopeful future with her son and his father, who is also a drug court participant.
    Jolinda Wade, the mother of Dwyane Wade, was the very powerful, enlightening, encouraging keynote speaker. She talked about her addiction to heroin and how much it cost her, and how the Bible helped her overcome. She is now a pastor and preaches on Chicago's South Side.
    Braidwood Police Chief Nick Ficarello introduced his department's outreach program for addiction in area communities. Community Helping Addicts Needing to Gain Empowerment (CHANGE) links addicts seeing recovery with treatment facilities. Those who wish to participate need only to request help at the Braidwood Police Station, and the police department will take the necessary steps to start the individual on the path to recovery - without repercussion.

2016 accidental overdose statistics

    Will County Coroner Patrick K. O’Neil recorded 115 accidental overdose deaths in Will County in 2016. Heroin and/or fentanyl, a possible heroin substitute, caused 76 of those deaths — compared to 53 in 2015.
    The coroner’s office statistics indicate that six people in the Wilmington and Braidwood area died of accidental overdoses in 2016; heroin intoxication caused four of those deaths:
    • White male, age 30, died Jan. 27 of heroin intoxication in Braidwood
    • White male, age 44, died March 28 of difuoroethan intoxication (huffing) in Wilmington
    • White male, age 36, died April 4 on heroin intoxication in Wilmington
    • White male, age 57, died May 9 of atherosclerotic and HCVD. Part 2: Morphine toxicity, in Wilmington Township
    • White female, age 48, died July 30 of heroin and alcohol intoxication in Braidwood
    • White male, 23, died Oct. 27 of heroin intoxication in Jackson Township