Naperville forum examines 'what's behind' heroin epidemic

Heroin is the buzzword that brought more than 100 people to a forum Tuesday night at Linden Oaks at Edward behavioral health center in Naperville to learn about the drug and its dangerous consequences.

“What are the long-term effects of heroin? There are no good long-term effects. It's just addiction, addiction, addiction,” DuPage County Coroner Richard Jorgensen told the crowd of parents and some young people. “Once you're addicted to this drug, that is your entire life.”

But treatment professionals leading the event said they want to take the conversation beyond the hot topic of heroin and into what leads people to using the dangerous opiate.

“I'm hoping some of the conversation changes, driving at what's beneath it,” said Corey Worden, licensed clinical professional counselor and community liaison at Linden Oaks. “Heroin is one of many bad things that can happen with adolescent substance use and usually it's the end of the line; there are a lot of other things that come first.”

Sponsored by State Sen. Michael Connelly along with Linden Oaks, the event was called “The Heroin Epidemic: What's Beneath It and What You Can Do About It.”

Speakers including Jorgenson, DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin and Dr. David Lott, medical director of addiction services at Linden Oaks, said prescription drug abuse, the low cost — $10 — of a dose of heroin and the drug's increased purity are some of the driving factors behind the epidemic.

In DuPage County alone, there were 46 deaths in 2013. The 2014 heroin death total will be 32 or 33, depending on toxicology, Jorgensen said.

The lower number of deaths in 2014 likely is a testament to one step the county is taking to solve the problem.

Nearly 2,000 police officers have been trained to use an overdose reversal drug called Naloxone or Narcan, and Jorgensen said officers using the antidote so far have saved 36 lives. Without those saves, more than 60 people would have died from heroin in DuPage last year.

Lott said half of the risk of developing an addiction to heroin or any substance is genetic, but the other half comes from the environment. He said environmental factors the community can change include parent and societal attitudes about drug use and low self-esteem in teens.

People also can remove unnecessary prescription drugs from their homes and be cautious when accepting prescriptions for opiates such as Vicodin, Jorgensen said.

But Worden said some more basic actions — following the “parental gut” feeling that says something is wrong, listening, being patient and ending permissive attitudes about teens using alcohol and marijuana — are other important steps people can take.

There are no guarantees in the fight against heroin, Worden said, but parents who voice a strong message against drug use, and voice it repeatedly, will be doing what they can to stop the problem.

“And at the end of the day, what we're left with is hope,” Worden said.

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  State Sen. Michael Connelly and Linden Oaks at Edward mental health center in Naperville sponsored a heroin education forum Tuesday night aiming to move the conversation beyond the addictive drug and deeper into the issues that are leading people to use it in the suburbs. Marie Wilson/
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