DuPage County is averaging nearly one heroin overdose death per day this month, putting it on pace for a record-setting number of heroin deaths this year, Coroner Richard Jorgensen said Wednesday.
Jorgensen said there have been 18 confirmed heroin overdose deaths in DuPage County so far in 2013, and as many as 15 more deaths are awaiting toxicology reports where heroin is the suspected cause. Fifteen of the deaths have occurred in the past 17 days, he said.
"We've got something goin' on here," Jorgensen said. "We're just shocked. This is way out of the norm."
With as many as 33 heroin deaths already in 2013, DuPage County is likely to surpass the 38 heroin-related deaths in all of 2012 and 27 in 2011.
"It's all over the county. It's every city. There's no pocket," Jorgensen said.
The suburbs have been in the grips of a heroin epidemic for years, and while awareness and education efforts have ramped up, the scourge continues to take its toll.
Joe Salerno, 73, owner of Rosedale Chapels funeral home in Roselle, said he's had an average of two to three funerals per month for heroin overdose victims and it's been heartbreaking.
"I've never seen it this bad," said Salerno, also a Bloomingdale Township Trustee, who this week donated $2,000 to the Carol Stream Police Department to support its D.A.R.E. drug awareness program and plans to do the same in Glendale Heights. "The devastation it does to these families ... it's really bothering me. We have to do something about it."
"Glee" star Cory Monteith's heroin and alcohol overdose death last weekend brought the spotlight back to the issue, but local awareness groups say they are still struggling to get the word out about overdose prevention tools available, such as the overdose reversal drug Naloxone, and the 911 Good Samaritan Law, which provides immunity to anyone who calls 911 to report an overdose as long as they aren't carrying large amounts of drugs.
Activists also are trying to educate people about opiates, which include certain prescription pain pills.
An estimate 75 percent of heroin users start off abusing prescription pain pills before moving on to the less expensive and easier-to-access heroin.
"In the real world, every day, there are Cory Monteiths all around us. Let's be realistic about this. ... He's a representative of other people who look just like him who are not in the limelight," said Chelsea Laliberte of Wauconda, who runs Live4Lali, a drug awareness charity created in memory of her brother, Alex, who died of a heroin overdose in their Buffalo Grove home in 2008.
Kathie Kane-Willis, director of Roosevelt University's Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy, said despite the many strides they've made to educate people about the epidemic, there still is no comprehensive approach -- and no help from the state government -- to get the word out to people who need it most.
"All around us, people keep dying and we get frustrated. It's like being in a war zone. We're tired of this," she said. "We're working our behinds off, and there are so many others working their behinds off, to try and get control of this epidemic and getting these numbers down. Every day that somebody dies is a day we think to ourselves, 'If they had only known. If we could have spread the word about Naloxone, this could have been prevented.'"
Training for use of Naloxone is being widely expanded and will be offered at Live4Lali's annual event Aug. 17, Lali-Palooza, a battle-of-the-bands fundraiser at the Lake County Fairgrounds in Grayslake.
It'll also be at the "Stop Overdose IL" Overdose Awareness Day Rally & Vigil Aug. 24 at Roosevelt University's Schaumburg campus.
"If we don't do things in a comprehensive way, we're going to keep seeing this," Kane-Willis said.
"The house is on fire. Let's get people out of the house, and we're not doing that. We have a crisis here."