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posted: 4/21/2012 7:56 AM

Numbed by drug deaths, young women take a stand

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  • Take A Stand founders, from left, Lindsey Dulian, Megan Hartigan, Shannon Brody and Heather Riley organize stacks of their brochures in Lake Zurich.

       Take A Stand founders, from left, Lindsey Dulian, Megan Hartigan, Shannon Brody and Heather Riley organize stacks of their brochures in Lake Zurich.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Take A Stand, a new, Facebook-based group that's raising awareness about drugs in the suburbs, was created three months ago after overwhelming response to a post about another young suburban person dying of a drug overdose.

       Take A Stand, a new, Facebook-based group that's raising awareness about drugs in the suburbs, was created three months ago after overwhelming response to a post about another young suburban person dying of a drug overdose.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Lindsey Dulian, 24, of Lake Zurich, right, hands a Take A Stand brochure to her friend Daniel Speicher of Lake Zurich during a group get-together at TGI Friday's in Lake Zurich. The group, led by young suburban women, is raising awareness of the easy availability of drugs in the suburbs and the extreme danger they pose.

       Lindsey Dulian, 24, of Lake Zurich, right, hands a Take A Stand brochure to her friend Daniel Speicher of Lake Zurich during a group get-together at TGI Friday's in Lake Zurich. The group, led by young suburban women, is raising awareness of the easy availability of drugs in the suburbs and the extreme danger they pose.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

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It all started with a Facebook post.

Lindsey Dulian wrote a long, sad commentary on her Facebook page Jan. 11 after hearing about the latest drug overdose death in her community -- a 21-year-old woman she knew from Lake Zurich High School.

Dulian, a 24-year-old leasing consultant and college student, vented her frustration online about how drug deaths were becoming so common in the suburbs, no one was even shocked by them anymore. People had developed a casual, "Well, there goes another one," attitude, she thought.

"I don't think I'm the only one that feels useless in saying, 'I hope people will learn this time,'" she posted, concluding with, "Something needs to be done."

To her surprise, dozens of friends responded. They posted comments like, "I'm in!" "We have lost too many people to this," "I agree 100 percent!" and "I was just thinking the same thing last night. Hey, I can do a fundraiser." Friends she hadn't talked to in years volunteered their professional services, or offered financial and moral support.

The overwhelming reaction motivated Dulian and a group of enthusiastic, determined, young women to form Take A Stand, a grass-roots, nonprofit, Facebook-based group aimed at raising awareness about the easy availability of heroin and other drugs in the suburbs, and the extreme danger they pose.

Joining Dulian in Take A Stand's leadership are Heather Riley, 24, of Lake Zurich; Megan Hartigan, 22, of Hawthorn Woods; Ann Brody, 58, of Lake Barrington; and Ann's daughter Shannon Brody, 21, of Palatine.

"We've all had close friends that have died in the last five years. We're sick of this happening," said Riley, a restaurant server who said her parents are astonished that she's gone to more funerals in the past few years than they've gone to in their entire lives.

Despite the media attention the suburban heroin problem has received in recent years -- some have called Chicago "the heroin capitol of the U.S." -- the number of overdose deaths remain staggering.

In Will County, for example, there have already been 10 heroin overdose deaths in the first three months of this year, including seven in January, Coroner Patrick O'Neil said.

"It's the most dangerous drug that's out there. It's available, it's cheap ... some people die the first time they try it. There isn't a chance to even become addicted to this drug. They're dead after the first jab," O'Neil said. "It's been a growing problem across the state of Illinois."

In Lake County, where Take A Stand is based, there have been 99 drug overdose deaths in the last 15 months. More than one-third of them involved heroin and one-fifth of those who died were under the age of 26, according to data from the Lake County coroner's office.

Problem sparks action

Take A Stand is one of several groups that have sprung up online or in the health care/human services industry in response to the suburbs' growing drug problems. Regular forums have been organized in an effort to educate parents and the public about the problem, including two in recent weeks: one at St. Charles East High School organized by Kane County's Juvenile Drug Court program, and one in Romeoville, hosted by HERO (Heroin Epidemic Relief Organization) and Will County HELPS (Heroin Education Leads to Preventative Solutions).

It's been only two months since Take A Stand was formed, but already the group has held bi-weekly get-togethers, drawing upward of 50 people, and met with several community leaders and others involved in the cause.

They also put two events on the calendar: a bowling party they're hosting Sunday to raise money for the Jeremy Stom Remembrance Foundation -- an awareness raising group created in memory of the 18-year-old Hawthorn Woods man who died of a drug overdose in 2009 -- and a free Awareness Walk Saturday, June 23, at Paulus Park in Lake Zurich. The walk will include a trek around the park, speakers, informational booths and a balloon launch in memory of everyone who has lost the battle with addiction.

"We want people to say, 'What's going on?' We want to be so loud, they can't ignore us," said Ann Brody. "It's exciting to see so many people want to help."

What makes Take A Stand unique is that it's led by young women from the community rather than by parents who have lost children, recovering addicts, or people whose jobs are connected to the issue.

Their enthusiasm has impressed people who have met with them, including Chrystal O'Halloran, a Lincolnshire mom who runs Nicholas' Gift of Hope, a foundation named after her son, who died of a heroin overdose in 2007. The foundation mails free drug testing kits to parents to help them keep tabs on their children.

With school DARE programs fading out, and others, like Operation Snowball, focusing on marijuana and alcohol, O'Halloran said young people get only an introduction to what heroin is -- not an eye-opening warning of how deadly it can be.

"I can't imagine being their age (of the Take A Stand organizers) and having to lose that many friends," O'Halloran said. "I think what they're doing is wonderful. Maybe because they're young, they'll get their point across better than parents who have lost children. Maybe people their age will listen to them more than they would a 41-year-old mom."

That's what Take A Stand hopes to do. The group is working on a plan to communicate this potentially lifesaving information to middle school students. Members are researching the issue and learning how to reach this age group.

"We're a really determined group. We know we're going to make a difference," Dulian said. "There's no such thing as impossible."

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