Updated: August 23, 2014 6:24AM
Orland Park village and school leaders are concerned about comments made at a recent fire district meeting that they believe implied that there’s a heroin problem among students in Orland District 135.
Meanwhile, Orland Fire Protection District officials say they’re surprised that Mayor Dan McLaughlin and others would criticize the district for its annual program to raise awareness among parents about substance abuse.
The July 15 public meeting drew a crowd of about 100 and featured parents talking about losing family members to alcohol and drug abuse. District officials said there has been a jump in the number of heroin deaths in recent years.
In a statement released Friday, McLaughlin said the fire district’s presentation gave a “misleading and inaccurate” account of the extent of drug use among students in District 135.
“The fire district portrayed our village and our police department as being unresponsive to this critical issue and nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.
Village officials said the presentation implied that the District 135 administration has refused to allow fire district officials to speak with students about drug use.
“I’m quite perplexed by claims that fire protection district staff have not been allowed to make presentations to our students,” District 135 Supt. Janet Stutz said, adding that it was “simply not true” that there is a drug problem in the schools.
She said fire district firefighters and officials have worked with the school district on fire safety and prevention.
“We’ve collaborated with them on CPR training and other fire prevention and protection programs, and District 135 has a history of participating in fire district sponsored educational workshops regarding drugs and keeping children off drugs,” Stutz said.
But fire district board president Jim Hickey said the information at the public meeting was accurate and correctly defined the threat of heroin and substance abuse within the district, which includes Orland Park, Orland Hills and unincorporated Orland Township.
“We are deeply disappointed McLaughlin would issue his criticism without even contacting us to discuss the issue or even attending the event which was widely publicized in the media,” Hickey said. “The mayor’s press release was filled with inaccurate and irresponsible statements. I am deeply disappointed when public officials show more concern for their public images rather than for the safety and well-being of our citizens.”
Fire district Battalion Chief Michael Schofield told CBS2 News last week that Orland Park had zero heroin overdoses 10 years ago and last year there were six.
Fire Chief Ken Brucki said he spoke at the meeting about drug use among elementary school children “throughout the region,” not just in District 135.
“At no time did we criticize the village, the police or the school districts. We noted the drug problem is growing not just in Orland Park but in neighboring suburban communities,” Brucki said. “... We have most recently had a great relationship with the leadership of local school districts, including District 135, on education and prevention and we want that to continue.”
Hickey said fire district representatives are willing to meet with McLaughlin, Stutz and Orland Park Police Chief Tim McCarthy to develop a unified stand against drug abuse.
Orland Park police were not notified or asked to participate in the fire district meeting, McCarthy said, and “if we were, we would have corrected the misleading and erroneous information then and there.”
Hickey said McCarthy told local media last month that heroin use was a problem and announced that police will carry Narcan (Naxalon) in their cars to better respond to heroin overdoses.