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updated: 2/8/2013 2:26 PM

Task force would address heroin "epidemic" in suburbs, state

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  • Chelsea Laliberte, who founded the heroin awareness effort Live4Lali in memory of her brother Alex, said the state needs to be involved in funding education programs aimed at stopping drug use among young people.

      Chelsea Laliberte, who founded the heroin awareness effort Live4Lali in memory of her brother Alex, said the state needs to be involved in funding education programs aimed at stopping drug use among young people.
    Courtesy of Chelsea Laliberte

  • Sam Yingling

      Sam Yingling

 
 

SPRINGFIELD -- A suburban lawmaker has proposed legislation that could help alleviate the heroin problem both in the suburbs and across the state.

The proposal, written by State Rep. Sam Yingling, a Round Lake Beach Democrat, would form a bipartisan Young Adults Heroin Use Task Force to identify how the state can help.

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The task force will be given until the end of June 2014 to conduct a study of heroin use problems in Illinois high schools and suggest programs they can use to address the problem.

The panel would be made up of lawmakers appointed by legislative leaders.

Yingling called suburban use of the drug an "epidemic," and his proposal has already picked up support from other suburban Democrats.

While it is not yet clear how the state would help combat the epidemic, the human cost of heroin has been all too clear for suburban families.

According to data released last year by Roosevelt University's Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy, the Chicago metropolitan area has had more heroin-related emergency room visits than New York City, Boston or Detroit.

Buffalo Grove native Chelsea Laliberte, the founder of the Live4Lali organization, which has raised awareness about the dangers of heroin in memory of her brother, Alex, said the best way the state can help solve the heroin problem in the suburbs is through further public education and awareness.

"Putting room in the budget for these awareness programs is critical," Laliberte said. "Without it we're going to continue to have these overdoses and we are going to continue to be ignorant."

Yingling says his plan's focus on youth is no coincidence -- heroin-related treatment in Illinois emergency rooms jumped 27 percent for people age 20 or younger between 2008 and 2010.

Yingling said the effort to reduce heroin should involve reducing prescription drug abuse as well, though his legislation doesn't directly address it.

"The opiate high that teens seek from drugs such as Oxycodone may also be obtained from heroin, which is much cheaper, easier to buy, and offers users a more intense high," he said.

Yingling's effort is far from becoming law but could get a preliminary hearing in the coming weeks.

There already are many independent suburban community groups who are working on the prescription drug problem, too.

Bill Gentes, coordinator of the Lake County Underage Drinking and Drug Task Force, said there are between 4,000 and 6,000 pounds of prescription drugs in Lake County that have been dropped off voluntarily to police by members of the community who did not want them to fall into the wrong hands.

"About 80 to 90 percent of heroin users started by abusing prescription drugs," Gentes said. "That's why if you can remove as much prescription drugs from streets and people's homes, kids are much less likely to be hooked on prescription drugs and less likely to get hooked on heroin."

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