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Heroin use a growing problem in Chicago area

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Heroin addiction is a growing problem across Illinois. Law enforcement, doctors and others are trying to confront the problem.

In Illinois heroin is second only to alcohol in substances for which people are seeking treatment and increasingly, the drug is claiming young lives.

As the mother of a heroin addict, P.J. Newberg has seen the drug's destructive power first-hand.

"Your values, your morals, it steals everything from you," she said.

Newberg's 18-year-old daughter Paula has been in and out of rehab for the last two years. She's unable to go to school and unable to stay clean.

"What I witnessed with her is the physical changes but how it destroyed her life. It destroyed our relationship. It took her soul," Newberg said.

Newberg's daughter is not alone.

In Chicago Heights Saturday, educators, doctors and members of law enforcement held an emergency summit to discuss the drug's tightening grip on the Chicago-area.

After retiring from the Chicago Police Department, John Roberts moved his family from the city to the suburbs. Then his son started using heroin and eventually died from an overdose.

"I was shocked that Billy could find it out there in the suburbs," Roberts said at the event. "I was shocked that he did not know how dangerous it was. And I was shocked to many other kids his age were involved with drugs and heroin."

Roberts couldn't sit by and watch as other families dealt with addiction. So he went on to start The HERO (Heroin Epidemic Relief Organization) Foundation.

"Only nicotine ranks higher in a dependency profile. Of those who are offered heroin, one in five will try it. Of those who try it, one in four will become dependent on it," Director, Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy at Roosevelt University Kathleen Kane-Willis said.

"We're not talking about the 50-year-old heroin addict. We're talking about the 16 year old captain of the football team," executive vice president and chief operating officer of Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities Peter Palanca said.

Between 2007 and 2011, heroin overdose deaths rose 50-percent in McHenry county and Will and Lake counties saw those fatalities double.

The numbers in Cook County are harder to come by. According to Newberg, in an 18-month period, her daughter lost four friends to heroin overdoses, all of them from well-heeled suburbs of the North Shore.

"People are kind of burying their heads in the sand. They don't want to talk about it. They don't want to do anything about it. I think they're more concerned about the image of the town than they are of all these kids dying," Newberg said.

Heroin can now be snorted or smoked. It doesn't have to be injected, which is part of the reason why so many young people are getting hooked.

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