Naperville police: No heroin deaths in 2012
Despite the relatively good news Naperville police detective Shaun Ferguson had to share, he hesitated -- not to build anticipation, but rather to avoid "jinxing" himself and everyone else affected by the city's heroin epidemic.
"This year we've had five known through June who have overdosed on heroin," he said. "The good news so far, and I don't want to jinx us at all, is that summer is halfway over and we've got zero deaths."
Just last year the city was rocked by 10 known overdoses that resulted in six heroin-related deaths. The war is far from over, but Ferguson said an increased community awareness and community participation -- including the 100 or so people who attended Monday night's Heroin Education and Prevention Forum in Naperville, hosted by Republican Congresswoman Judy Biggert -- are helping.
"Education is helping. We used to have kids take their drugs and leave their friends who were in trouble," he said. "But we're starting to see a turn in that where more and more young people are getting the cops and firefighters involved to save the kid and get him some treatment."
The forum also featured speakers who addressed the local response to combating teen heroin use, including Neuqua Valley High School social worker Pam Witt, DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin and recovering heroin addict Bill Patrianakos of Will County, among others.
Each of them stressed the importance of parents being involved in their children's lives and knowing who they're hanging out with and what they're into.
"Trust me, your children have enough friends. They need a parent," Patrianakos warned. "My parents did all the right things and I still went astray."
Berlin stressed the need for communication and listening.
"I spent a number of years supervising our juvenile division and if I took one thing away from that experience, it is to pay attention when your children are talking," he said. "We've all got our smartphones, but when you're talking to your children you need to put your phones away and listen to what they're telling you."
The forum also featured a presentation by retired Chicago police Capt. John Roberts, who lost his son to heroin overdose in 2009. After the tragedy, he launched the local nonprofit Heroin Epidemic Relief Organization, or HERO, which provides families with prevention, intervention and support services.