Bartlett leaders hope to raise awareness of heroin plague
Bartlett Police Chief Kent Williams has heard too many times from young, recovering heroin addicts that they wished they knew how dangerous the drug really was before trying it.
Same for their often "very loving, connected, grounded families" who are horrified to learn the drug could have ever fallen into the hands of someone close to them.
"What we're seeing is it's really a literacy issue," Williams said. "Don't fall into the blissful state that it could never happen to my child."
That is why Williams will be among the key speakers Wednesday at "It Couldn't Happen Here -- The Realities of Heroin Addiction in Our Community." Joining Williams as speakers at the event, which begins at 7 p.m. in Bartlett High School's auditorium at 701 W. Schick Road, are Bartlett Village President Kevin Wallace, DuPage County Coroner Richard Jorgensen and recovering heroin addicts and their family members.
The free event is open to families of Bartlett High School, South Elgin High School, Eastview Middle School, Kenyon Woods Middle School and Tefft Middle School.
Williams and the Bartlett community know all too well the dangers of heroin use among young people. John Dudek, 15, was found dead in his home July 10 from a heroin overdose. An 18-year-old Hanover Park man faces a charge of drug-induced homicide alleging he sold the Bartlett teen the drugs that killed him.
Dudek's death occurred almost exactly a decade after 15-year-old Bartlett High School student Tomasz Szpak died of a heroin overdose.
"The big picture here is that this is a community issue," said Bartlett High School Principal Richard Lebron.
The event Wednesday is one of several heroin awareness gatherings Williams has been scheduled to speak at recently.
"We're willing to do them anytime we're invited," he said, adding that there will be time for questions and answers, and similar events can be hosted by businesses, church groups, schools and other community organizations.
Patrick Mogge, spokesman for Elgin Area School District U-46, said every high school in the district will be hosting a heroin awareness event, but all the dates are not set yet. Streamwood High School will be next, with a meeting set for Wednesday, Dec. 11.
Early next month, freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors at Bartlett High School will attend separate, in-school assemblies for their class to go over many of the same issues covered at Wednesday's event.
A spokeswoman for the DuPage County coroner's office said there have been 42 heroin-related deaths in the county this year, more than all heroin-related deaths in the county in 2012. At one point over the summer, the county had 15 heroin overdose deaths in 17 days.
Williams, who noted that heroin today is cheap and pure and doesn't require a needle to ingest, said Wednesday's talk is appropriate for children as young as seventh and eighth grade.
"We are seeing initial experimentation with alcohol and marijuana and other forms of drugs in middle schools," he said. "It's here, and more and more children are being exposed to it."
The problem is being fueled in part by the prevalence of opiate-based drugs in home medicine cabinets, Williams said. People get addicted to the painkillers, and when the prescriptions run out or they become too difficult to obtain, they often turn to heroin.
"We're seeing too many children fall into that trap," he said, adding that the heroin problem is most prevalent among young adults ages 19 to 22. "The prescription runs out, but the addiction doesn't and it creates desperate action on behalf of these people."