Heroin: Why these drugs are so tough to fight

  • Heroin use is on the rise in the suburbs.

    Heroin use is on the rise in the suburbs. Daily Herald file photo

Sara Burnett
Daily Herald Staff Writer
Updated 4/4/2014 5:41 PM
Editor's note: This story originally ran on Dec. 2, 2001 as part of the Daily Herald's "Hidden Scourge: Heroin in the Suburbs" series.

A teenage girl lies flat on her back, staring up at her friends as they wave glow sticks in her face. From the look in her eyes it is obvious the girl is "rolling" on the illegal club drug Ecstasy.

A few feet away, a dealer is selling the drug to another group of teens. They sit in a circle on the floor, one of the girls sprawled across a young man's lap.


Outside, two Aurora police officers in a marked squad car roll up to the rave to see what's happening. It's well past midnight, and there are still at least 100 cars in the building's parking lot.

The owner of the building, who will later say there was no drug problem at the party, approaches the squad car. According to the officers, the owner tells them everything is under control, then offers them a soft drink.

The officers decline and pull away.

Only after they've been filled in by someone who was inside do the officers learn what was happening: a rave, complete with the music, drugs, and drug dealing for which the dance parties are notorious.

By that time, it's about 3 a.m., the party is basically over, and the police are called away to a traffic accident.

Easily hidden

The story - an actual account of a suburban rave that occurred in September - provides an example of the ever-changing challenges of fighting drugs in the suburbs.

by signing up you agree to our terms of service

Any police officer can detect the odor and slurred speech of a person who's had too much to drink. And many can spot a crack addict a block away.

But law enforcement officers admit it can be more difficult to locate the people buying and selling heroin and club drugs - drugs that are being used at an increasing rate among suburban teens.

Club drugs can be easily hidden and often are found at "underground" parties called raves - parties police sometimes don't learn about until they're over.

Heroin use poses problems of its own, largely because suburban users usually travel to Chicago to buy the drug, then use it on their way home. By the time they get back to the suburbs, the drugs already are gone.


The hidden nature of the drugs - and the pace at which their use is increasing - is worrisome to area police and drug educators.

"Everybody is doing their darndest to make as much impact as we can," said Joseph Vanacora, commander of the narcotics unit for the Cook County Sheriff's police. "We're doing things, but what we do is never, never enough."

The owner of the business where the rave took place, said it's particularly difficult to stop kids from coming into the building after they have taken club drugs, especially if they aren't yet displaying symptoms of the drug use.

"When someone drinks, you can smell it on their breath when they walk in," he said. "With Ecstasy, they can do it in their car and walk in just like normal. You can't control it. That's kind of frustrating."

To combat the use of heroin and club drugs, police and drug educators say communities must first admit there is a problem, then educate youth, parents and other adults about them.

But too often, people in suburbia don't want to believe drugs are a problem, they say.

Some police departments and schools prefer not to go public when a teenager dies from a drug overdose, calling the death a private matter or fearing it will reflect poorly on the school or the community. Or, they may think talking about the drugs will give kids ideas and make them want to try them.

And then there are parents who don't know enough about drugs and don't want to learn, because doing so would be admitting their kid may be using them, police and drug counselors say.

"I think a lot of these parents are completely in the dark," said Streamwood Police Sgt. Michael Zeigler, who leads the department's special operations group.

DeAnna Casucci, a counselor at the Renz Addiction and Counseling Center in Elgin, has seen many of those people first-hand. Casucci frequently attends open houses and parent nights at local schools, where she hands out information about drugs. It is not uncommon, she says, for parents to refuse to take the information.

"They'll say, 'Oh, don't waste your paper,' " Casucci says. "They assume their kids are smarter than that."

Plano's lessons

The people of Plano, Texas, know all too well what happens when a community tries to keep its drug problem under wraps.

In 1997, emergency room doctors in the affluent Dallas suburb began seeing a rise in the number of heroin deaths. One of the doctors tried to encourage city leaders to go public. But city officials, police and the doctor's own superiors were hesitant.

In three years, 24 people, most of them teenagers, from the Plano area died from heroin overdoses. Among the dead was former Dallas Cowboy Mark Tuinei.

Police say the drug struck this community especially hard because it was easily available (dealers smuggled the drug from Mexico) and, perhaps most important, the residents of the suburban city had the money to pay for it - and to ensure that dealers would return.

The epidemic is one that could be easily repeated in communities throughout the United States, drug educators say.

"There is no place in this country where you can go where your kid is immune," said Howard Simon, a spokesman with the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. "If your kid's not using, the chances are they know someone who has been asked or have been asked themselves.

"As we say, the question becomes, if you're not talking to your kids, who is?"

Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.