Orland Park man, now in recovery, a poster child for heroin problem
By CASEY TONER firstname.lastname@example.org April 26, 2012 10:32PM
Kyle Dunn, 23, of Homer Glen, talks about his history of heroin use and his current sobriety Friday, April 6, 2012. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
The corner market
On a quiet Tuesday earlier this month, Kyle Dunn took a ride to “Dope Row.”
From his Orland Park home, he took the back roads to LaGrange Road, made his way to Interstate 55, and eventually into the town of Cicero.
He drove past the main thoroughfare, cut through a shopping plaza to avoid police, and navigated his way to a corner he knows well. The barren part of town is lined with low-rent housing and vacant lots.
“It’s all drug dealers and old ladies,” Dunn said. “The old ladies love giving you dirty ... looks.”
Dunn spent thousands of dollars on these streets buying heroin, and he took a trip back to show a reporter how easy it is.
From the minute he arrived, the sales pitch was on. Men on the corners yelled toward his car, asking what he was looking to buy. Dunn turned into an alley, drove down another street and pulled up to a stop sign. A man on the street with a puffy coat recognized Dunn and said he had the hookup.
With a pained smile on his face, Dunn rolled down the window and waved him off.
“You can be 15 years old, driving without a license, without insurance, in your mommy and daddy’s car, and they will serve you,” Dunn said. “This is how easy it is.”
Updated: May 28, 2012 8:01AM
The road to hell runs up Kyle Dunn’s right forearm.
His white skin is marked by blackened veins and pin-prick scars, evidence of a curse that is his to bear.
Just months ago, the Orland Park man was boiling heroin in a cooker and shooting himself up. After years of drug abuse, he had gotten clean about two years ago. But the 23-year-old had a temporary relapse in November.
“I should be dead for how much heroin I’ve done,” Dunn said matter-of-factly. “There’s a lot of people who have died who haven’t had as many chances as me. I should have died 100 times over. By the grace of God, I am alive.”
Some of his friends, and many others, aren’t so lucky. Heroin use is a growing problem in the Southland, with overdose deaths in Will County up sixfold since 2000, and it has stirred school, political and law enforcement officials to action.
Lewis University served as a backdrop this month for a rally against heroin use, and forums on alcohol and drug abuse are scheduled for Monday night at Lincoln-Way North High School in Frankfort and for Wednesday night at Sandburg High School in Orland Park.
Dunn is one of the faces of heroin abuse, but also an addict who provides some hope to those trying to recover.
Dunn grew up with his mother, Donna, father, Leo, and two siblings, Ryan and Alyssa, in a house in the 13800 block of Lady Bar Lane. He recalls getting into real trouble for the first time as an eighth grader at Homer Junior High School, when he was expelled for selling marijuana and Ritalin a doctor had prescribed him.
Dunn finished grade school through a correspondence course and stayed out of trouble during his freshman year at Lockport High School. He even joined the school’s junior ROTC program.
But Dunn said he fell in with the wrong crowd as a sophomore and started going to parties and smoking pot. He befriended a drug dealer and started selling a quarter-pound of marijuana to classmates every week and up to 10 jars a day of pharmaceutical-grade pills he obtained through a Chicago connection.
“I started to know what money was back then, and I started stacking paper,” Dunn said. “I loved the lifestyle. I loved making money. I love smoking weed. I was friends with jocks, nerds, cheerleaders. I was friends with everyone because everyone wanted something to do.”
With his drug profits, Dunn bought cocaine, marijuana and pills for himself. Failing his classes, he dropped out of high school in December 2006 and enrolled in an alternative school, from which he later graduated.
Dunn snorted heroin for the first time at a friend’s house in Lockport. He was 17.
“I had a huge tolerance, but when I did it I was high as hell,” Dunn said. “I got blasted. It’s like riding a roller coaster for your first time. I loved the down feeling, being chilled out and relaxed. I love it. I really do. I love it and I hate it.”
Heroin was cheaper and easier to find than pills, but not in the nearby suburbs, Dunn said. He would buy heroin from dealers in Cicero.
“It was always, every day, no matter what time, they didn’t care (when we called),” Dunn said, “Because we had money.”
As his heroin use escalated, Dunn said his personal life fell apart. He was charged with retail theft in Orland Park in 2009.
His mom, Donna Dunn, said she began to notice money missing from her wallet, items stolen from the house, violent swings in her son’s personality.
“When you finally come to grips with that your son is using heroin, you are scared to death and you know how horrible things are and you immediately want to get him help, but at the same time you’re feeling like a failure as a parent,” she said. “You’re embarrassed so you don’t want people to know.”
Friends started dying of overdoses from heroin or other drugs, including Billy Roberts and Matt Kirk — whose fathers, John Roberts and Brian Kirk, later co-founded the Heroin Epidemic Relief Organization to combat the problem regionally.
“I didn’t care when people died,” Dunn said. “It’s like, ‘Another one bites the dust.’ At the same time, I’d be in the funeral homes snorting a bag.”
Fearing for her son’s life, Donna Dunn referred him to a drug abuse recovery program in May 2009 at Calvary Church, 16100 S. 104th Ave., Orland Park.
“I gave him an option and said, ‘You move out so I don’t see you die or you come with me and get
help,’ ” she said. “ ‘If you’re going to die of this (stuff), I’d rather have you die outside of my house.’ ”
He tested positive for drugs and checked into the South Suburban Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse recovery center May 11, 2009. It was the first day in six years he went without a drug. He described the next 10 days of withdrawal as “hell.”
Upon his release, Dunn checked into a now-defunct halfway house sponsored by Calvary Charities. He spent three months at Olcott House in Tinley Park learning how to detail cars.
When he got out, Dunn enrolled at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, where he began studying pastoral theology and church ministry leadership.
His recovery hit a roadblock in June 2010 when he lost his brother, Ryan. Calling it an “atomic bomb” that was dropped on his recovery, Kyle Dunn said he began to lose faith.
“I’m going to a Christian school but not believing in God at all,” he said. “I’m sitting in my seat saying, ‘Damn, I hate you.’ ”
Dunn started hanging out with the wrong people and smoking pot again in August. Three months later, he was doing heroin, shooting up instead of snorting it. He checked into rehabilitation at Leyden Family Service and Mental Health Center on Jan. 9, 2011. Dunn was released 19 days later.
His girlfriend, Alex Brown, gave birth to their daughter, Madeline Quinn Dunn, less than one month later. He calls her his “motivator.”
“If I ever relapse, I better die,” Dunn said. “I can’t live with myself doing that and having the kid.”
Now, he’s taking a semester off school and taking care of his daughter with his girlfriend. He works part time at Family Christian Stores at 15121 LaGrange Road and sells scrap metal on the side.
Dunn remains involved with his church, leading the Christians in Recovery 12-step program every Thursday night.
He wants to stay clean.
“It feels more normal to be clean than to be using drugs,” Dunn said. “It’s hard work keeping yourself regulated and living life like a normal human being.”