Normally the Little Theater at Lincoln-Way Central High School is full of parents, grandparents and friends watching on-stage student performances. On one particular evening, the regular crowd filed in and sat down as usual. This time, however, it wasn't about applauding achievements. It was about preventing tragedy and saving lives.
On Sept. 27, the Will County HELPS symposium on heroin packed the house with community members desperately seeking information about the drug that in decades past was associated with the dangerous margins of society and how it's become trendy and chic. It's the new heroin; it's more potent, cheap, easily accessible and flourishing as an underground capitalistic market that's driven by gangs.
Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow was one of several panelists to speak to the audience. He told the audience that heroin and its deadly consequences can be overcome. It demands a total commitment on the part of the user, including an uncompromised determination to avoid the situations, places and people that drag a soul to ruin.
Start the discussion early about gateway drugs
A father himself, Glasgow said, "I always told my kids that (the drug habit) starts somewhere with (using) pot or alcohol." Discussions that broach the topic have to start early between parents and kids. By the time they get to high school, it might be too late. Junior high school kids are already using inhalants they get out of the garage. They're inhaling common household cleaning products or paint to get high.
An ordinary medicine chest filled with toothpaste, dental floss and mouthwash becomes dangerous when a few prescription bottles for the treatment of migraine headaches or high blood pressure are added to the mix. He referred to prescription drugs and household chemicals as "gateway drugs."
These are often an addict's first encounter with drugs. This is where abuse of chemicals gets a foothold and shapes an attitude about recreational drug use, said Glasgow, whose office initiated the Drug Court program in the late '90s. Thus far, nearly 300 have graduated to live drug free lives, according to the website at the Will County State's Attorney's Office.
Glasgow's veteran experience with drug users that end up in the criminal court system has showed him time-and-time again that the path toward hard-core drug use takes shape at an early age through ordinary household products and access to prescription drugs and alcohol.
Compelled by Glasgow's discussion of gateway drugs, a recovering heroin addict and graduate of Drug Court, a young woman who spoke earlier in the symposium stood for a second time to elaborate on her presentation. Identifying herself to the crowd as Danielle H., she said "it's true" what Glasgow said.
Before she was anywhere close to the hell that heroin put her through, she recalled getting a prescription for Ibuprofen 3 to help with the symptoms of a concussion she suffered in a fall.
"I took one, but I didn't need them," she said. "I remember (a guy) I knew coming up to me and telling me he'd give me $30 for the prescription. That got me thinking (about) why he'd want it. There must be something in it that makes you feel good."
A 2006 Lincoln-Way High School graduate seated in the back of the auditorium stood up later in the symposium and confessed how gateway drugs got him hooked on feeling good. He warned parents to "get rid of (unwanted or expired) prescription drugs." Keep current prescription out of reach.
The Lincoln-Way High School graduate and recovering addict said, "It starts with drinking and pain killers. It starts at home."
If addiction is already on the doorstep, Drug Court adaptation proposed
The Drug Court program is built on a strict system that demands time in jail along with counseling and serious consequences for using again. The Drug Court program is successful because it's founded on a system of rewards and punishments to induce behavior.
Chuck Pelkie, spokesperson for the Will County State's Attorney's Office, likened the program to the carrot and stick approach. "The carrot is if they (keep clean,) all charges are dropped. They won't be dogged the rest of their lives with a felony charge. The stick is a full sentence (and a felony charge.)"
As Glasgow lauded the success and discipline of the program for those who pleaded guilty to felony-related drug charges, audience members questioned why it's not available to those who haven't yet entered the criminal system.
Standing at the podium, Glasgow admitted that it is ironic that a truly successful program is limited to people who have been arrested. He came up with an on-the-spot decision to figure out how the Drug Court program could be adapted to accommodate those who haven't yet been caught up in criminal court system.
With the idea hatched less than a week ago and in response to audience interaction, Glasgow's suggestion to adapt the program is yet in the infancy form, said Pelkie. There needs to be research and work to figure out how to apply the consequences of failure.
An earlier panelist, Judge Ray Nash, urged the crowd to welcome the role that law enforcement plays. If there is evidence of drugs, it's time for open communication between the family and law enforcement. "It's about saving a life," he said.