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updated: 11/21/2011 9:46 AM

Fight against heroin involves us all

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul doesn't worry much about whether heroin is legal because he's not interested in it and he doesn't know anyone who is. He should spend some time with Lea Minalga.

Minalga, a drug counselor from Geneva, runs an organization called Hearts of Hope. In the past decade, she has attended more than 100 funerals of young people from the West and Northwest suburbs who forfeited their lives in the trap of heroin addiction. As Daily Herald staff writer Jamie Sotonoff reported this weekend, Minalga has adopted a twofold mission to console families who have lost members to heroin addiction and to educate others before they lose someone or are lost themselves.

Her message: The problem is real. It's serious. And it's bigger than any of us thinks.

It's important to acknowledge that Paul's point of view on drug abuse doesn't ignore the issue. Paul recognizes the scourge that the drug represents, but he sees young people like Paul Grogan, a 26-year-old Glendale Heights man found dead Nov. 11 of a heroin overdose, as an unfortunate cost of freedom. Most of us, the Libertarian candidate says, are smart enough, or lucky enough, to avoid the drug.

Maybe so. But far too many of us are not. State Rep. Patti Bellock, a Westmont Republican who calls the suburbs "the heroin capital of the U.S.," noted in Sotonoff's story that 18 people have died of heroin overdoses so far this year in DuPage County alone. "If we said 18 people died of swine flu, people would be up in arms," she said.

As they should. And, as she and Minalga would agree, people should be up in arms about the heroin problem in the suburbs. Does that mean government has to solve the problem? No. Clearly, government cannot do it alone.

But neither can Minalga or those like her fighting on their own. Government, all of us really, must play a role in the solution. Thankfully, we have people among us like Minalga who devote themselves privately and professionally to the myriad heartbreaking battles that must be fought in rehab facilities, funeral chapels, family living rooms and the streets to increase awareness of the heroin scourge and constantly remind us of its presence. But as their growing numbers demonstrate, we and they need more.

For more than a decade, the Daily Herald has sought to draw attention to this effort. We've told the stories of everyday families surprised to find themselves ensnared in the horror that is heroin. We've told the stories of people who try to help. And we will continue to emphasize a message that eventually must hit home to suburbanites whatever their political party or social values.

You may not be involved with heroin yourself. You may not know anyone who is. But beware -- nearly every family or individual caught up in the tragedy has said the same thing at one point. Meet Lea Minalga, whose own son is a wounded survivor of this war. And remember that she alone, nor even all those who join forces with her on the front lines, cannot win it.

We all have to participate in the solution.

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