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Police, schools, parents all play role in anti-drug crusade

Updated: June 4, 2012 8:04AM



You could call it the “friends and family plan” for heroin dealing.

Southlanders heading to Chicago, Chicago Heights or Harvey to buy dope for themselves, but picking up a little extra to sell to pals back home.

Police in Orland Park saw that recently, stopping someone they knew had traveled to the city’s West Side for heroin. Some of the 10 packets of drugs found in the vehicle were destined for the man’s acquaintances, Orland Park Police Cmdr. John Keating said.

“We don’t have the street-level sales here in Orland, but (heroin) users on occasion will bring back smaller quantities for friends,” he said.

Local police departments are seeing an increase in heroin use, particularly among teens, and are working with schools to reinforce the anti-drug message at the same time they’re stepping up enforcement efforts.

“Areawide and nationwide, there has been an increase in the use of heroin among young people, no question about it,” Tinley Park Police Chief Steve Neubauer said.

While alcohol use is still viewed by police as the most serious substance abuse issue among teens, rising misuse of prescription painkillers and heroin are troubling signs.

“It’s a major issue that we are dealing with,” Keating said. “We are trying to take measures to deal with it.”

Police say they are working with area schools on programs aimed at middle school and high school students, echoing the message they hear from police in elementary school as part of the DARE — drug abuse resistance education — program.

“We can’t just stop that message at sixth grade,” Keating said.

But for some kids, the message apparently isn’t getting through. What can confound those who deal with the effects of substance abuse is how swiping a beer from dad’s fridge one day can ultimately lead to a kid using heroin.

“There are gateways,” Neubauer said. “People don’t all of a sudden decide one day to use heroin.”

Statistics from the Will County coroner’s office show the devastating impact the drug has had.

County officials said that, after seeing a handful of heroin overdose deaths each year in the early 2000s, the number jumped to 17 in 2008, then to 29 the next year. There were 30 heroin-related fatalities in the county last year.

“It’s a serious problem,” Will County Coroner Patrick O’Neil said. “It’s an epidemic.”

Like other opiates, heroin is a depressant that slows the body’s central nervous system, affecting heart rate and respiration. Paramedics responding to overdose emergencies can administer drugs that override heroin’s effects, O’Neil said. Without them, overdose deaths in the county could number in the hundreds, the coroner said.

“There have been plenty of overdoses. I don’t know how many we saved.”

Having ‘that talk’ with your kids

Police find themselves cleaning up the messes heroin and other drugs leave in their wake, and have stepped up efforts to curb availability of the drug, although that’s a tall order because Chicago “is a major hub for heroin,” Keating said.

“We’ve targeted our enforcement to the heroin user and the heroin seller,” he said. “We aggressively go after the dealers in these cases to shut them down, shut down the supply.”

Yet he and Neubauer said law enforcement is one element of what has to be a multipronged approach, including parents and educators.

“We can make heroin possession arrests all day,” Neubauer said. “We cannot arrest our way out of this problem.”

Kids might get the “drugs are bad” message drilled into their heads in school, but parents have to reinforce the message, as well as not exhibit a casual attitude toward drug and alcohol use, Neubauer said.

“Parents have to be role models and not say one thing and do something else,” he said.

Parents, instead of being hard-nosed about abusing alcohol and drugs, “too many times they are trying to be their kid’s friend,” said Dana Aikens, a clinical supervisor at the South Suburban Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse.

“You need to have that talk with your kids,” she said.

And, Neubauer said, don’t worry about being repetitive.

“You have to have a conversation on an ongoing basis,” Neubauer said. “Study after study has shown that children actually listen to their parents.”



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