Want to keep your child away from drugs? Drug addiction and law enforcement experts say half the battle can be won simply by being a parent, rather than your child's friend.
The panel of experts joined Naperville residents Amy and Paul Miller, whose 18-year-old daughter Megan recently died of a heroin overdose, to speak to the community about the dangerously addictive drug during a Monday night forum titled "Heroin: Stemming the Tide" at Wheaton Salem Church.
"As parents, we need to be vigilant because raising our children is a 24-hour-a-day job," said Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow. "Kids have gotten very creative and very resourceful in this underground world that we've created, so the moment you see your kids with anything that looks odd, you've got to check it out. You've got to just start being a pain in their butts."
Kimberly Groll, an alcohol and drug addictions counselor from Care Clinics of Naperville, has seen patients as young as 14 seeking help. She said dealers are turning to the suburbs with a cheap product that children can afford.
"Heroin deaths have more than doubled in Will County in the last two years because you can buy heroin for cheaper than a movie ticket. And the dealers know this," she said. "But you have a 50 percent chance of keeping your kids safe and away from drugs if you educate your kids early and have that talk often,"she said.
Groll said children will often start with cigarettes and alcohol before branching out to marijuana and before making the leap to heroin and other drugs.
She recounted the gagging and vomiting many smokers endure before they "master" smoking.
"If a child is willing to go through all that for a cigarette, what else will they be willing to try down the line?" Groll said.
She said parents should be alert for signs of drug use like red or glassy eyes, a lack of interest in grooming, mood swings and declining grades in school.
Monday night's forum, which included a question-and-answer segment with the Millers, Glasgow, Groll and Jim Scarpace, a substance abuse program manager at Aurora's Gateway Foundation in Aurora, served as a follow-up to a Feb. 13 forum that more than 500 people attended at Naperville's 95th Street Library.
Both forums have been focused on drawing the community's attention to a drug epidemic that has been responsible for at least six heroin deaths in Naperville in 2011 and the death of Megan Miller already in 2012.
Heroin arrests have also been on the rise in Naperville, with 47 last year, double the number in 2009, according to police.
Scarpace again reiterated the need to talk to your children to keep them from becoming a statistic.
"I can't say it enough. Talk to your kids about drugs. Make sure they can feel they can come to you if they're struggling and they're not going to be shamed or yelled at," he said. "Your reaction will make or break whether they come to you again when they really need help."