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posted: 11/1/2013 5:00 AM

Editorial: Awareness key to battling heroin use

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Police chiefs, legislators, school officials, parents, students. The fight against drugs -- especially the heroin epidemic in our suburbs -- is involving, rightfully so, all these groups.

The need to find solutions has never been greater. As staff writer Jessica Cilella reported Monday, the DuPage County coroner's office has identified 42 heroin-related deaths this year in the county -- more than all of 2012. "We have to accept that we have a problem. And the only way to deal with it is to understand that it's in every community and every age group and every socioeconomic group," said DuPage County Coroner Richard Jorgensen earlier this fall.

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Bartlett Police Chief Kent Williams told Cilella that many parents are shocked to learn that their son or daughter could even get involved with heroin or other drugs.

"What we're seeing is it's really a literacy issue. Don't fall into the blissful state that it could never happen to my child," Williams said.

To combat that kind of naiveté, forums, assemblies, events are being held and websites and videos created to reach as many people as possible. These are the kinds of efforts that Jorgensen, who has brought the problem to an even greater light this year, has been urging and ones we believe are crucial.

Williams spoke this week at a forum at Bartlett High School, and similar events will be held at every high school in Elgin Area School District U-46. The next one is set for Dec. 11 at Streamwood High School.

In Naperville, the nonprofit KidsMatter group launched its ParentsMatterToo initiative last month, aimed at supporting parents in their efforts to raise kids who avoid drugs.

KidsMatter Executive Director IdaLynn Wenhold told the Daily Herald's Joshua Welge that a national survey showed 67 percent of youngsters believe their parents are their biggest influence with regard to staying drug-free but only 30 percent of parents talk regularly with their children about drugs and alcohol.

"That told us that we need to do all we can to connect parents and kids and empower parents to feel more effective in their conversations," Wenhold said.

Indeed, parents need to educate themselves and then reach out to their children on a regular basis. To help, they can go to the parentsmattertoo.org website or they can attend forums like that at Streamwood High or another being planned by two legislators at 7 p.m. Nov. 18 at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove.

"Oftentimes communities focus on the crisis at hand, that crisis goes away and there is a lull," said Neuqua Valley High School Principal Bob McBride, who is a member of the steering committee for ParentsMatterToo. "What we're trying to do through a parent network is build something sustainable over a long period of time."

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