Heroin, mental health: Stories that don't end

Posted10/10/2015 2:00 PM

"If our lives were a movie, if our lives were a book/It'd be longer than I could defend/'Cause if you're telling a story, at some point you stop/But stories don't end."

That song by the band Dawes came to mind as I thought about the never-ending nature of the news business, where what we most prominently do is tell stories.


Last year, for example, we told of the heroin epidemic whose tentacles were reaching into the suburbs with increasing frequency. We told that story through the eyes of a coroner, an addict, families of addicts, judges, counselors, police and many others. We recapped the series by pointing out that despite only minimal improvement in the numbers, suburbanites were no longer burying their heads in the sand. Acknowledgment that heroin use is prevalent, we said, was key to getting a handle on the problem.

But that story didn't end. Last month, Marie Wilson, who wrote many of those stories, discovered that the cost of Narcan, a heroin overdose antidote drug, was skyrocketing. Police departments, operating under stretched budgets, wondered if they'd be able to afford the drug they'd touted and were training their officers how to administer.

And just this past week, Marie learned that a jaw-dropping number of heroin overdoses in Chicago -- 74 in a 72-hour span -- had implications in the suburbs. Since Sept. 19, seven people in DuPage County have fatally overdosed, while Kane County reported five such deaths. In reporting that story, Marie passed along some encouraging news: There have been 22 confirmed heroin overdoses this year in DuPage, compared to 33 a year earlier. That doesn't necessarily mean heroin use is dropping, as officials say they've made 43 Narcan "saves," 10 more than in 2014.

Our reporting on heroin took us down the path to one of this year's major projects: Mental health. In working the heroin story, Marie quickly learned that drug use and mental health issues often are inextricably linked; one often begets the other. Obviously, it's more pervasive than that; mental illness is a thread that wends its way through nearly every aspect of society. And at the same time, it's something many are loath to discuss. So, Marie's first story delved into the education efforts by Linden Oaks, a mental health facility in Naperville that planned to start the conversation with a series of seminars for parents.

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In May, she told readers about Mental Health First Aid, classes aimed at, among other things, encouraging young people with undiagnosed conditions to ask for help. It also suggests that the rest of us become more adept at reaching out to those in need.

From that story, Marie learned such training was offered in a more specialized way for police officers, which led to today's front-page piece on the new nature of policing. Marie aptly put it, "No longer are cops only protectors of peace, hunting down bad guys and arresting dangerous criminals. Now, it's almost as if they're social workers, too, asked to make referrals that can improve quality of life."

That prompted a second part, scheduled for tomorrow's editions: As police become mini-experts on mental health, what is being to ensure the caregivers are getting care, too?

Mental health, Marie noted as she introduced the series, affects half the population in some form or another.

I suspect that it, too, is a story that will never quite end.


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