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updated: 2/13/2012 5:42 AM

Community leaders to discuss heroin use in Naperville

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Police hesitate to say how many heroin-related deaths have occurred in Naperville in recent years, but officials say even one is too many.

They say they believe the most effective way to combat the drug and the hold it puts on its users is to educate anyone who will listen.

With that in mind, local experts are offering a free presentation on heroin abuse featuring two police detectives and a drug and alcohol addictions counselor at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 13, at Naperville's 95th Street Library, 3015 Cedar Glade Drive.

The presentation is sponsored by the DuPage Child Abuse Prevention Coalition, Naperville Police Department and the Naperville Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 42.

Kimberly Groll, a licensed counselor specializing in drug and alcohol addiction, hopes the room is filled with just as many children as adults.

"Of course we want to educate the parents, but I would like more to educate adolescents because they are talking to their friends," Groll said. "When teens are confronted with issues or concerns, they're going to their friends. Unfortunately, sometimes those friends lead them to the drugs in an effort to help them feel better."

Groll said she'll also be stressing to parents the importance of observing their children's behavior. Something as seemingly trivial as a cigarette should be a red flag, she said, because that's where the chain of progression often starts.

"Often the parents will be relieved that it's 'only a cigarette,'" she said. "But the truth is that cigarettes are a gateway drug that leads to alcohol and then synthetic marijuana, eventually advancing to the harder stuff like heroin."

Police Chief David Dial said he is regularly perplexed by why adolescents are drawn to the "extremely dangerous drug."

"People in our community overdose and die from it, yet I'm told young people just don't get it," Dial said. "I wish I could understand what it is that they're not getting."

Mental health and addiction counselor Stephanie Willis from Linden Oaks Hospital at Edward said most patients ages 18 to 25 are abusing opiates, particularly heroin. And by the time they get to heroin, she said, they're hooked.

"People don't start at heroin, they start using other substances and gradually get bored and try to find the next high," Willis said. "Part of the difficulty and reason why efforts don't seem to make a difference is because its hard to intervene during active addiction. You can't stop a storm in the middle of the storm."

Willis said she also hopes children and adolescents attend the forum with their parents because she believes the only way to make a difference is to "start tackling education and awareness earlier."

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