How prescriptions lead to heroin addictions: Naperville videos explain
Naperville officials on the front lines of the heroin battle paused to offer some perspective Tuesday with the release of online videos that examine the path from prescription abuse to heroin addiction.
The ParentsMatterToo project, started in 2013 in response to 13 heroin deaths among Naperville young people, produced the videos to offer a brief education on risk factors leading to the ongoing problem with the powerful opioid.
"ParentsMatterToo is committed to addressing the root of this problem," said IdaLynn Wenhold, the executive director of KidsMatter, the nonprofit group that launched the ParentsMatterToo project. "The video series will highlight snapshots of the stressors that pave this road to addiction."
Three of the main stressors Naperville teens face are competition -- be it in academics, athletics or material possessions; overinvolvement in activities; and perfectionism, Wenhold said.
But the stressors that lead to heroin addiction differ slightly. Experts featured in the new video series say these risk factors are easy access to unmonitored prescriptions at home; a desire to self-medicate potential mental health conditions or to escape feelings; and overprescription of opioid pain medications for legitimate sports injuries.
"Naperville is very blessed. We have a lot of what I would consider 'first-world problems,'" Mayor Steve Chirico said. "But we're not immune to the many problems that other communities face. Drug addiction is certainly one of our problems."
The series of four 3-minute videos offers a crash course on why otherwise well-off suburban kids and young adults fall victim to heroin's spell.
In Naperville, police Chief Robert Marshall said there are an average of five heroin overdose deaths a year and 20 to 25 cases when people overdose on prescriptions -- most of them not fatal.
The community has stepped up education and prevention efforts during the past few years, and police in March launched a new program called Connect for Life to help addicts access treatment.
But Marshall said parents are the latest target for the prevention message because some of them are giving up.
"You guys cannot retire as parents. You can't quit this job," Marshall said. "The parental support around our youth who are involved in drug addiction and destructive behaviors, some of them have just quite frankly checked out. So we need to get this awareness out there ... and tell parents to give the emotional support the kids need in the community."
Featured in the videos are former heroin addicts, an addiction treatment specialist, a therapist, police and fire chiefs, a high school principal, two parents who lead anti-heroin efforts after losing children to the drug and the siblings of a 20-year-old who died from an overdose.
The first video advises everyone to monitor, secure and dispose of prescriptions when they are no longer needed. Naperville's police headquarters and all 10 fire stations offer prescription drug drop boxes. Since the boxes were installed in April 2014, Fire Chief Mark Puknaitis said they have collected more than 2,000 pounds of medications.
The second video explains how the teen party culture leads some to take drugs despite not knowing what they are and advises parents to watch for unusual behaviors and drug-test their children if suspicions arise.
The third explains the link from prescriptions to heroin use and the troubling new ways young people access the drug -- often ordering synthetic versions from other countries via the internet or "darknet" and having them mailed directly to their homes.
The fourth and final video shows former heroin addicts and siblings of an overdose victim sharing what they want parents to know: mainly that parents need to carefully track their kids' behaviors for signs of addiction, and if their children do fall into a habit, there are resources to help.
The videos are posted at http://www.parentsmattertoo.org/prescription-drug-videos/.