Panel: Addiction is a disease and heroin, opioid abuse signs are common

  • Elgin Police Detective Anthony Rigano shows attendees at a "Heroin Highway" presentation Tuesday at the Gail Borden Public Library how a seemingly innocuous clear pill capsule can be used to hide and transport heroin.

      Elgin Police Detective Anthony Rigano shows attendees at a "Heroin Highway" presentation Tuesday at the Gail Borden Public Library how a seemingly innocuous clear pill capsule can be used to hide and transport heroin. Harry Hitzeman | Staff Photographer

  • Kane County Coroner Rob Russell examines one of the free, at-home drug tests being offered by the Kane County sheriff's department at a "Heroin Highway" presentation Tuesday. Last year, 67 people died in Kane County from heroin/opioid overdoses and the county is on pace for 72 deaths this year.

      Kane County Coroner Rob Russell examines one of the free, at-home drug tests being offered by the Kane County sheriff's department at a "Heroin Highway" presentation Tuesday. Last year, 67 people died in Kane County from heroin/opioid overdoses and the county is on pace for 72 deaths this year. Harry Hitzeman | Staff Photographer

  • Authorities displayed photos of what heroin, opioids and other drug paraphernalia might look like at a "Heroin Highway" forum at the Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin.

      Authorities displayed photos of what heroin, opioids and other drug paraphernalia might look like at a "Heroin Highway" forum at the Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin. Harry Hitzeman | Staff Photographer

 
 

It can seem as innocuous as a plastic capsule, or a teen texting a friend about "Molly."

Signs of heroin and opioid abuse can be everywhere; a clear pill capsule can be emptied to transport heroin and other drugs, and "Molly" isn't a love interest -- it's slang for a supposedly pure form of MDMA or Ecstasy.

That fentanyl you've heard about? That lethal, synthetic drug is being added to heroin to get users even higher.

"Fentanyl is in almost every bag of heroin that's on the streets right now," said Kane County Sheriff's Sgt. Aaron Feiza, who also serves on the county's Heroin Task Force. "Fentanyl is taking over and you have no idea the scope or dangers of it."

Feiza was one of several speakers Tuesday at a "Heroin Highway" presentation by the Kane County sheriff's office and other agencies at the Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin.

Sheriff Don Kramer said his office is adopting a three-prong approach to fighting heroin and opioid use: education/prevention, treatment and enforcement.

Kramer said authorities can't just arrest their way out of the problem, but are working with the federal Drug Enforcement Agency to bust larger dealers and track the drugs to the source. Kramer said addicts need access to treatment, which is dealing with one's problems and working on self-esteem in addition to getting off drugs.

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Deaths from heroin and opioid use in the county are on pace in 2018 to be more than double that of two years ago and more than three times the 21 deaths in 2015.

In 2016, heroin/opioid deaths were 32 and jumped to 67 in 2017, which Coroner Rob Russell said is more than yearly traffic crash deaths in Kane. There have been 46 heroin/opioid deaths this year -- on pace for 72 -- according to the coroner's office.

Stephen Holtsford, an emergency room doctor at Delnor Hospital in Geneva who also works at Lighthouse Recovery, a treatment center in St. Charles, said one step is to fight the societal stigma.

"It's a disease, not a moral failure," Holtsford said, noting genetics, a person's upbringing, as well as surrounding neighborhood are factors in addiction.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"The opioid epidemic is a symptom of a society that needs work," he added, stressing increased economic and educational opportunities also are key to fighting the demand for the escape of drugs.

Elgin Police Detective Anthony Rigano said a critical time to help addicts is when they are released from prison or rehab. Those are the two most dangerous times for fatal overdoses, he said, urging people to call 911.

Minutes can make all the difference. More Naloxone, or Narcan, an anti-overdose drug, is needed to revive a patient because the heroin is stronger, too, authorities said.

Rigano said authorities will make arrests when needed but want to help people get access to treatment. Elgin police have an initiative, "We Can Help," which can fast-track addicts willing to seek treatment into a facility within 12 to 24 hours instead of the weeks it could take some people under traditional insurance.

"The police aren't going to solve the problem alone," Rigano said. "It's like an onion. There's so many layers to it. The police are just one layer."

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