Durbin in Naperville on heroin problem: 'It's reached everywhere'
Kyle Simari says he started using marijuana when he was 13 because he wanted to feel happy.
Everything changed two years later when the Naperville teen had his first experience with heroin -- and heroin withdrawal.
Between the ages of 15 and 18, Simari says he regularly did heroin simply to avoid the sickness that comes with withdrawal. During that time, he got kicked out of high school, lied to family and friends and "hurt a lot of people."
"I certainly did not plan on becoming a drug addict when I was younger," said Simari, who is now 19. "But due to the way I felt inside, and due to the way I acted and how drugs found me, it simply became like that."
After going through treatment six times, Simari is now sober and wants to help others overcome their addictions.
On Friday, he shared his story during a roundtable discussion that featured U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and area advocates, law enforcement officials, health professionals and recovering addicts. The goal of the meeting at Naperville city hall was to discuss ways to combat a nationwide surge of lethal drug overdoses and heroin use.
"What I am trying to do is to let people know that what was once considered an inner-city problem is now a problem that's reached everywhere," Durbin said. "It is a challenge we face in every corner of our state and in every state in the union."
Durbin said the number of drug overdose deaths in the United States has more than doubled since 1999. Drug overdose deaths are now the leading cause of preventable injury death, killing 44,000 people each year, according to Durbin. Most of those deaths involve either prescription opioids or heroin.
"Tens of thousands of these deaths could be averted with one simple, accessible intervention -- naloxone, " said Durbin, referring to the nonaddictive drug, also known as Narcan, that can reverse a potentially fatal heroin overdose.
In June, Durbin introduced federal legislation that would provide funding to community-based organizations to buy and distribute naloxone and lead training seminars for law enforcement.
"We've learned in Illinois these programs work," Durbin said.
He said one partnership that demonstrates naloxone can save lives is the DuPage Narcan program, which trains police officers on how to administer the drug.
Officials with the DuPage County Health Department, which administers the program, say more than 2,200 police officers have been trained in the use of naloxone. Since the program started, 66 lives have been saved by officers who received the training.
DuPage officials said they are taking other steps to address the heroin problem, too.
"We knew that we needed to save lives initially, so we committed to the Narcan program," said Karen Ayala, executive director of the health department. "But we also realized that in order to really get around this issue we also needed to establish some prevention."
Ayala said many parents and kids were unaware of the strength and power of heroin.
So last year, the county started partnering with the Hinsdale-based Robert Crown Centers for Health Education to warn young people about heroin. The comprehensive opioid prevention education program is being offered at middle and high schools around the county.
Karen Hanneman, who lost her 21-year-old son Justin to an overdose in 2011, said it's important to spread the word about the dangers of heroin.
"The most powerful message that we can give is that it's happening," the Naperville woman said. "We need to talk about it. We need to let others know what resources are available."