A panelist at the Will County HELPS symposium on heroin use Sept. 27 at Lincoln-Way Central High School, Will County Coroner Patrick O'Neil told a packed house when it comes to heroin, there are outcomes:
- The coroner's office
- The penitentiary
The reason for such a surge in the popularity of heroin use, he said, is purity and ease in preparation. "You don't have to cook it." It's not boiled on a spoon before its injected, he said.
Apparently heroin has managed to kick a reputation earned in decades past as a drug associated with a lifestyle lived on the margins of society. Today heroin is characterized as trendy.
And that's exactly the image that the gangs want to promote. If trendy and upscale don't hook enough users, according to O'Neil, the dealers give it away as a sample. It's something to try for free. If that doesn't begin to build enough clientele, then they sprinkle a bit of heroin in with marijuana.
"Kids don't even know" that they're ingesting it. "They're addicted" without their knowledge, said O'Neil. By the time the find out what else was mixed in that marijuana cigarette, they're hooked and looking to the gangs for a steady supply of a drug that at first makes them feel good.
Reaction from the crowd
At that point, a woman from the audience, Nancy Osborne, of Mokena, made a bold move. She stood brave among a group of onlookers and blamed "denial" as an issue that fuels the heart of the matter. Reflecting on a battle that took place in New Lenox in 1983 against cocaine and other drugs, she said misinformation and attitude allowed drugs to feed an undercurrent within a community of substance abusers.
In those days, when the topic was brought up in public for discussion, people said it doesn't happen here in New Lenox, not at Lincoln-Way High School, recalled Osborne. The catch phrase at the time, she said, was "not at lily white Lincoln-Way."
How did concerned residents handle the influx of drugs in the '80s?
The United Methodist Church in New Lenox hosted a meeting for families struggling to grapple with addictions. The idea of banning together for information sharing and support eventually spread to the surrounding communities. A core group of members adopted the title, "Pride of Frankfort Township," Osborne added.
The members came to each other's aide. As time passed, somehow the popularity of hard-core drug use began to wane.
Osborne is calling for a resurrection of sorts of that like-minded group of concerned families and community leaders. "We have to stay active; be the parent; bring your children to church."
Echoing a prominent Christian philosophy, she said, "The family that prays together stays together."
O'Neil's brutally honest statement about the outcome for heroin users—prison or death shook another woman in the audience to the core. Identifying herself only as a grandmother whose adult child is an addict, she's witnessed too much grief over heroin use.
"My son is 30, and he's on it." When he's aching for a fix, she said, "He tries to hide (the withdrawal symptoms.)" But she's no longer fooled into believing that it's a virus that's churning up his stomach. It's the symptoms of withdrawal that are causing him pain.
Another parent in the audience, who identified herself as Kathleen, sought advice from the panelist and the crowd. "I don't mean to sound naïve, but do you tell (young children) that it can kill them?" She was advised to stick to topics that talk about how the drug harms the body.
Treatment facilities and support
A man in his late 50s or early 60s found the stamina to address the difficulties his family has faced with treatment facilities. "My son's an addict. I have to drive two hours or an hour away" to a place that didn't call him "clean" just because the substance had cleared the body. The addiction doesn't simply go away.
The man in the Will County HELPS crowd asked for help in finding a local support group. Someone from the audience suggested that he investigate the Families Anonymous group that meets on Monday nights at St. Jude Church, in New Lenox.
Find out how Drug Court is helping to turn around the lives of hard-core heroin addicts in Patch's upcoming story in the series on heroin.