Editorial: The hidden victims of heroin abuse

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Updated 7/17/2012 8:32 AM

For more than a decade we have chronicled the surge of heroin use in the suburbs by our youth and the tragic stories of suburban kids caught up in the scourge.

We've talked with teens who have come out alive and with parents of teens who haven't. We've talked with experts on the topic and with those who help kids try to break the addiction. We've talked with suburban police and school officials who deal with the issue of heroin use on a regular basis, warning parents about the telltale signs. One such forum was held last night in Naperville.


We haven't spent much time at all on another aspect of the fallout from a heroin addiction: the effect on siblings of the user.

In Friday's Daily Herald, though, staff writer Jamie Sotonoff did just that. And we think it's important enough to highlight the issue again in this space, to urge parents to learn from it and to bring even more awareness to the continuing and troubling suburban trend of heroin use among youth.

"Siblings get left out. They're not getting support from their parents, because the other sibling has become a vacuum," said Dr. Joseph Lee, a child psychiatrist and medical director of youth services at Hazelden, a national addiction treatment center with a Chicago location. "Some (siblings) end up trying to be caretakers, some enable, some turn their backs, some won't talk about it, and some are scared so they ignore it."

None of those reactions is good. Some of those siblings may also get into drugs as well. But we want to highlight Chelsea Laliberte, who is channeling all those emotions into something very positive and helpful.

Laliberte, as Sotonoff reported, lost her younger brother, Alex, to a heroin overdose in 2008. She had tried to warn her Buffalo Grove parents that Alex had escalated his drug use from pot and alcohol to harder drugs, but, as her mother admitted later, they didn't believe her.

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"After he died, I was expected to support my parents, which I tried to do. There was no support for siblings. I tried to go to a support group, but I remember feeling like I was the only sibling there, and the only person under the age of 40," said Laliberte, who is now 27.

Addiction treatment centers are starting to focus on this once-neglected segment with more programs. One such group is at Highland Park Hospital. Laliberte is thinking about starting a group herself, and she's working on a book about her experience as a surviving sibling.

In addition, she created a charity in her brother's memory to bring out awareness of heroin use in the suburbs. She held a fundraiser this past weekend at Par King miniature golf in Lincolnshire.

"It's so important to educate (children) when they're young and educate the parents. At this point, nobody thinks they're going to die. But kids are dying," she said.

She speaks from experience. We urge you to listen.

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