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posted: 8/1/2015 7:30 AM

Naperville funds fighting root of heroin, suicide problems

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Two years ago, Naperville set aside money for efforts to stop suicides and heroin use.

The causes were identified as priorities in the city's social services grant, but they're not listed that way anymore.

The specific issues of heroin use and suicide prevention have been replaced with more general topics as community leaders seek to track back the heroin and suicide problems to their root causes and address underlying problems.

"I think they are looking to see what are those underlying causes, how can we address them, so that we are a community that is really trying to be proactive," said IdaLynn Wenhold, executive director of the nonprofit KidsMatter, a frequent grant recipient

New social services grant priorities in the city's next budget include prescription drug abuse prevention and mental health awareness.

"I think it's a good move," Naperville police chief Robert Marshall said about the shift in focus. "It doesn't mean we're not doing heroin prevention programs."

The change means the city now can fund broader work to prevent abuse of prescriptions, which is often a way people who become heroin addicts start using opiates.

"They are a gateway to addictions," Marshall said about misused prescriptions. "Those addictions can lead to individuals desiring illegal drugs."

One project to prevent prescription abuse begins this fall. KidsMatter is posting handouts at pharmacies that say "Don't let unsecured medications make you an accidental drug dealer."

"Currently drug use is a huge problem, but now we're noticing that it's not just heroin," Wenhold said. "Prescription drugs are a huge underlying cause of drug use and abuse that's why that education is so important."

Wenhold said the project received $21,000 from Naperville's social services grant this year and several pharmacies already are on board.

"It's a neat thing to let your patients know that there are a number of people who wind up addicted to drugs and they started by reaching into grandma's cabinet," said Bill Anderson, owner of Oswald's Pharmacy. "I didn't realize what a huge percentage of people get hooked on prescription drugs from borrowing somebody else's prescriptions. A lot of people don't understand that just because it's a legal prescription doesn't mean it's any safer."

Next year, $50,000 will be available for prescription drug abuse prevention and mental health awareness. Nonprofits and social service agencies apply with the city and council members approve which projects get funded.

The money is part of $500,000 from the city's general fund and food and beverage tax available for programs that help youth, special populations, emergency services, self sufficiency and seniors.

Council member Judith Brodhead said she supported the change because it's not necessary to point to "very specific uses" like suicide or heroin prevention when wider categories can address more needs.

Leaders at Samaritan Interfaith counseling in Naperville are glad the grant still includes funds that match the group's mission, especially in the mental health realm.

The nonprofit runs a mental health access program that in 2014 provided counseling to 1,114 people, 602 of whom live in Naperville, said Karen Sharpe, director of advancement and outreach.

"We don't want anybody to not get treatment because they don't have the financial resources," Sharpe said. "Mental health counseling helps and it matters. Mental illness is treatable."

While heroin and suicide no longer will be listed as special funding goals within Naperville's social services allocation, Brodhead said there is a way for the city to respond if heroin overdoses spike or suicides occur at an alarming rate. A $50,000 "responsive reserve" remains within the grant for "urgent community needs."

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