Editorial: Much more work needed in heroin battle
This is a tough editorial to write. For the last year, we've had occasional stories on people in the trenches, fighting their own heroin addiction or helping others in the battle. In fact, we've been covering the scourge of suburban heroin abuse for more than a decade.
Despite our efforts and, more importantly, the efforts of those in the community dealing with the issue head on, the news today is a mixed bag. While deaths are down from a high of a couple years ago, the number of people getting addicted to the drug continues to rise.
So much more needs to be done. And for those who still think it can't happen here or can't happen to them, the evidence is clear that they are wrong.
"When we first started, people were shocked. They said, 'Heroin? Really? In Naperville?'" said Diane Overgard, project manager of ParentsMatterToo, a positive parenting nonprofit group that was formed in 2013 in response to the heroin crisis. "Now I feel like it's been in the press and parents are aware," she told reporters Marie Wilson and Jessica Cilella for a story earlier this week.
But in some areas of the suburbs, awareness is not leading to vigilance. "I think it's being broken down, but the stigma, it inhibits people's willingness to address it," said Katherine Lebforth of the heroin prevention program at the Hinsdale-based Robert Crown Center. "People don't want to think about it. People really don't want to face it."
But face it we all must. The introduction of an opiate overdose reversal drug called naloxone and commonly called Narcan to police departments has resulted in many lives getting saved.
But that doesn't tell the whole story. "If it wasn't for the use of Narcan here in DuPage County, we'd be seeing more overdose deaths," said Mark Piccoli of the DuPage Metropolitan Enforcement Group, a joint police agency that has heroin as it's top priority.
"We're not seeing a decline."
In real numbers, think about this: the death toll in DuPage was 33 in 2014, but Piccoli said it could have been as high as 66 without naloxone. That would have been 21 more than the record 46 heroin deaths reported in 2013, which sparked much of the recent activity to fight the problem.
While awareness remains key at the parental level, it's also important that agencies work together with better communication and information for those who need it.
"It's a huge problem, and not one entity or not one advocacy group or one government agency can handle it by themselves," said Kane County Coroner Rob Russell.
"It affects everybody, and I think we can all take a little ownership."
Indeed, we all must if we value the lives of the young people and others who are the victims of this terrible addiction.
• See our full "Heroin in the Suburbs: Through Their Eyes" series at http://bit.ly/DailyHeraldHeroinSeries.