Despite the best efforts of community leaders and government agencies across the suburbs to battle heroin, it has proved to be a resilient and dangerous opponent. But now comes a promising strategy from a new quarter.
For many years, the addictive drug has weathered the traditional anti-drug messages, campaigns and community forums aimed at exposing the dangers it poses. What we've labeled in our ongoing coverage as the Hidden Scourge continues to kill in growing numbers across the region, and we've shared the frustration of police, parents and teachers. Now, a new breed of anti-drug crusader organizing in the suburbs offers unique hope.
Sunday, we reported about a growing number of groups of young adults, including some former addicts, who have a message and the tools to deliver it in a way that can persuade their peers to listen. Staff writer Melissa Silverberg wrote about those who have lost family or friends to heroin and decided to do something about it.
They organize local awareness events and raise money to fund the fight. They use Facebook, YouTube videos and film documentaries as new-age weapons to target teens and young adults with their message.
One group has made videos documenting the heroin struggles of some of its members. It contains honest talk about how individuals started doing the drug, what they lost through addiction and their path to getting clean.
Another filmed more than 20 former and current drug addicts for a documentary about the growing drug problem in their high school.
That's powerful stuff.
Many of these efforts have started in recent months, so it's too soon to tell definitively if this will be an effective antidote. But there are indications the message is being heard.
The YouTube videos have more than 6,000 views so far. More than 200 people attended the first screening of the documentary last month, and DVDs will go on sale in July.
"When you watch those other anti-drug movies in health class, it's always moms or teachers or doctors telling you not to do drugs," said Kelly McCutcheon, 18, of Naperville, who was involved in the documentary. "Since it's coming from high school kids, other people will find it easier to relate to."
Experts agree the message about drugs needs to be clearer and more specific about heroin. Telling kids to "Just say no" because drugs are bad isn't enough with heroin.
Today's heroin is more potent, more addictive, more prevalent and cheaper to buy than ever before.
These young adults say they want to use personal messages to start a conversation about the problem with their peers. That's a productive place to begin and may strengthen the anti-heroin effort with a new level of credibility.
We'll watch closely, help where we can and encourage others to join the fight.