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Police on heroin: ‘The poison brings crime’

Lemont Police Chief KevShaughnessy announced he will be candidate for Will County sheriff.  |  file photo

Lemont Police Chief Kevin Shaughnessy announced he will be a candidate for Will County sheriff. | file photo

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After losses,
fathers unite

HOMER GLEN — John Roberts was driving his son to a drug treatment session, and he inadvertently turned the car onto an unfamiliar road, a path that he did not know led to a dead end.

He kept driving to see if the road would take him to his destination. But at some point along the way he turned back. He decided this particular path was going nowhere.

Right then and there, he used the experience to warn his son, Billy, that the young man’s life was on a dead-end course. Despite the treatment, despite the warnings, despite his family’s care, Billy Roberts died of a heroin overdose on Sept. 20, 2009 at age 19.

Back on that road, the father told his son plainly: “That’s exactly what’s happening with you.”

“If there are signs that there’s only one way this road is going to take you, and it’s a dead end — if everything you hear and see tells you, ‘Turn around and go back’ — then turn around and go back.”

John Roberts wants everyone in Will County — parents, young people, all people — to understand the urgency of this message. That’s why he joined with another grieving father, Brian Kirk, and created the Heroin Epidemic Relief Organization.

The organization has joined with other groups to hold a community forum and youth rally on Friday at Lewis University in Romeoville.

The momentum for this week’s event started with grief and has culminated with positive energy for a good cause.

Coping with grief

After Billy died of a heroin overdose in Chicago, his parents and three siblings suffered through the loss.

“You wake up with it every day, and you go to bed with it every night,” Roberts said. “It never seems to go away, especially in these early stages. My wife and my children and I are all struggling with grief.”

Brian Kirk, a Homer Glen resident whose son, Matthew, died of a heroin overdose in April 2009, approached the family.

“Out of the goodness of his heart, he came here to help us get through our first stage. He met with my wife and I. And we were kindred souls who suffered the same tragedy,” Roberts said.

“As we talked, it became apparent: It wasn’t just Billy and Matt. There were other friends who were in treatment, and others who had died. As I looked around and saw the numbers, I had to do something about it,” Roberts said.

At the time of Billy and Matt’s deaths, heroin use in Will County was becoming more and more deadly. Fifteen people had died in 2007, 17 in 2008, and 29 in 2009.

Since that year, the deadly trend has continued, with 26 deaths in 2010, 30 in 2011, and nine deaths so far this year — a pace that, if sustained, would far exceed all these numbers.

Roberts spoke to the Illinois Legislature about the problem. Then the two dads sought to send a message locally.

“Brian called me one day and said: ‘I want to do a march and a rally. Are you with me?’ I agreed to do it. And we both laughed later, and said, ‘How do you do that?’ ”

They sought and received help for their awareness effort — thanks to Stepping Stones Treatment & Recovery Center in Joliet. The ball was rolling.

Spring rally

In April 2011, almost 500 people participated in a rally in Homer Glen.

Co-sponsors included the newly formed Heroin Epidemic Relief Organization (HERO), the Southwest Coalition for Substance Abuse Issues, and the Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependency Association.

The goal was to alert Homer Glen to the danger of heroin use.

“And we wanted the word to spread and spiral out from Homer Glen, because it’s all through Will County,” Roberts said.

Through the event, Roberts developed relationships with Will County Executive Larry Walsh; Mike Schofield, then Homer fire chief; Will County Judge Ray Nash; Coroner Patrick O’Neil; and State’s Attorney Jim Glasgow.

Walsh, along with other Will County leaders, helped form an anti-heroin program: Heroin Education Leads to Preventative Solutions (HELPS).

“He recognized it as a health epidemic, and I admire him for it,” Roberts said.

That organization is joining with Roberts and Kirk’s group this Friday at Lewis University.

Friday forum

The HERO-HELPS Community Forum begins at 9:30 a.m. Friday in the JFK Sports Center at Lewis University on Route 53 in Romeoville.

Speakers will address topics including criminal justice, counseling and social work, health care, and education and prevention.

A forum — titled “What Can a Community Do?” — will run from 12:30 to 2:15 p.m.

A youth rally, including entertainment by bands Dead Town Revival and The Frantic, will be from 6 to 8 p.m.

For more information, visit online at www.herohelpsevent.org.

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Updated: May 12, 2012 8:13AM



JOLIET — The 26-year-old Gardner man was laying between two vehicles in the Taco Bell parking lot when he was found.

His girlfriend came out to get her phone from the car and ended up calling 911. Police reports indicate he was “foaming at the mouth, conscious and bleeding from a track mark in his arm.”

While it took paramedics to make sure he survived, it didn’t take a detective to figure out what happened March 24. Especially after the victim admitted he’d been a heroin addict for two years and had just shot up in the bathroom and flushed the needle before he walked outside.

It was 12:18 p.m.

‘The poison brings crime’

Like firefighters, local police find themselves responding to heroin-related calls anytime and anywhere. And it isn’t just a problem in cities.

“I came to Lemont in 2004 and my second week on the job was a fatal overdose of a kid in his 20s,” police Chief Kevin Shaughnessy said. “Since that time (heroin), keeps coming up over and over, forcing us to recognize the depth of the problem. Unlike most other drugs, you can do this one time and die and if you don’t die you’re killing off your quality of life. I’ve never seen a drug as destructive.”

Lemont police had about a dozen arrests for heroin possession last year. Most of the suspects were teens and young adults.

The younger users, who Shaughnessy makes a point to interview personally, mostly purchase heroin in Chicago or Robbins and consume it on the ride back home, he says. But they also return with friends who don’t care about ripping off neighbors or trying to scam enough for a fix.

“The poison brings crime. Anytime someone’s arrested for heroin, it usually clears up a lot of car burglaries,” Shaughnessy said.

Getting high off their own supply

Metropolitan Area Narcotics Squad Director Vic Markowski explained that, unlike cocaine and marijuana, most of the heroin dealers police deal with locally also are users.

A local dealer will buy a ‘jab’, which contains a dozen hits, for $100 to $150 in Chicago. By breaking up the jab and selling individual hits back here, the small timer’s expectation is to make enough profit to keep three or four hits for his or her own use. Higher purity levels allow larger dealers to use certain chemicals as cutting agents to increase the weight of what they sell, which still results in a potent drug sold on the street.

“We don’t see the big fish as much here,” he admits. “Typically we see the smaller dealers who want to use for free.”

Markowski believes heroin use diminished substantially in the 1980s when cocaine flooded the market and the fear of AIDS made using needles unattractive, and the resurgence is also a result of increased availability.

“The heroin community is very closed because everyone involved is using. It’s more difficult for agents to access, but we are seeing it and it is deadly,” Markowski said. “When MANS considers a target, we look at how much time it will take, what the cost will be and how much of the drug will be seized. But most of the time, whenever someone says ‘heroin’ you go on it.”

‘Borders are being exploited’

Shaughnessy would like to see local police departments and task forces close the gap between suburban users and pushers in the city.

“I’m not blaming Chicago for what’s happening, but I feel borders are being exploited and collaborating would improve enforcement for both,” Shaughnessy said. Chicago police do send letters to the local department soon after a resident is arrested buying drugs, but Shaughnessy wondered if an email the next day would be more effective.

He’d also like to see a mandatory minimum sentence for selling heroin to a minor that’s harsher than one for other drugs and for law enforcement to improve efforts in tracing fatal overdoses back to dealers ­— pursuing them under the infrequently-used drug-induced homicide statute.

“We can’t arrest our way out of a problem, but we can’t say ‘do nothing’ either,” Shaughnessy said. “If someone is poisoning people we all want to see some accountability.”



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