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Heroin Use in DuPage County an 'Epidemic,' State's Attorney Says

District 86 hosted a drug symposium on Nov. 7 at Hinsdale South High School that featured several speakers, including DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin, with first-hand knowledge of the dangers of heroin in the suburbs today.

Thirty deaths from heroin overdose have occurred in DuPage County during the last 12 months, DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin said during an event at Hinsdale South last week.

“This is a real epidemic that we’re faced with,” Berlin said.

The county’s top prosecutor was one of several speakers who took to the microphone in Darien on Nov. 7 to talk about the prevalence and dangers of heroin at Hinsdale Township High School District 86’s Drug Awareness Symposium.

It’s important, Berlin said, that DuPage County community members learn and then spread the word about the dangers of heroin, a topic he said has not gotten the media attention it deserves.

“This is really an education and a health issue,” he said.

John Roberts, a former Chicago cop whose son died from a heroin overdose, also spoke at Hinsdale South last week along with community relations coordinator Claudia Evensen from Rosecrance substance abuse center.

An area mother whose son is currently in treatment for heroin addiction discussed her family’s experience with the drug, as well, but did not reveal her full name.

Roberts’ son Billy had just graduated eighth grade when the family moved from the city to the suburbs. Billy started using “soft drugs” and alcohol during his freshman year in high school, and moved on to hard drugs not long after.

Roberts said that when he first learned of his son’s heroin use, he was shocked that a suburban high-schooler could get a hold of the drug.

“Before we knew it, he was gone.”

Billy Roberts died in 2009. Since then, John Roberts and another dad who lost a son to heroin started the Heroin Epidemic Relief Organization (HERO), which through support programs, aims to help the families of those who have lost a child to heroin. 

Berlin said law enforcement’s battle against heroin is made difficult by the drug’s accessibility. It’s a cheap drug—$10 to $20 will get someone high for a night—and one that is easy for DuPage teens to get a hold of by traveling I-290, the “Heroin Highway,” to Chicago’s West Side.

Berlin said for every dealer that’s arrested there are several more still out there waiting to fill the void, meaning law enforcement can only do so much. It’s up to parents, he said, to spread the word to friends and other community members while paying attention to their kids—noticing if their grades slip, if they start hanging out with new friends, or if their personality changes and they become more withdrawn.

The state’s attorney encouraged parents to emphasize safety over privacy.

“[Your child’s] cell phone is the most important tool that you have. You’ve got to know what’s in that phone,” said Berlin, recommending that parents look at their child’s phone activity after they go to sleep or getting a program that monitors their kids’ text messages. “It may sound a lot like big brother, but this is a serious problem.”

Roberts echoed Berlin's pressing tone.

“It’s out here," he said of heroin in the suburbs. "It’s here now.”

Berlin said incarceration of heroin addicts does not address the problem. Rehabilitation is how to address it. DuPage’s drug court puts those charged with possession into treatment. Berlin said since 2002, 592 people have gone through the county’s drug court, and around half were successfully treated.

Marty Kwilosz November 15, 2012 at 06:30 PM
The heroin craze is a scary thing. It has even snuck its way into many normal social situations out there, A basic level of acceptance about it has become the norm. Now I'm not saying this reflects everyone. Though that group of high school/college age kids experimenting which use to be maybe some weed and Pabst Blue Beer is no more. I'm currently in College and its freaky to hear that it exists on the campus. Its a bad element.
J Simon November 15, 2012 at 08:28 PM
It's sad. Naperville has had a China White problem for at least ten years (one of the reasons I moved) - especially among the stay at home bored moms and wealthier latchkey kids, They refused to acknowledge it, probably because they did not want to damage their reputation as being a great place for families. If it had been acknowledged sooner, they may have been able to prevent it from spreading and becoming more commonplace. I hope now it will get the attention it needs, and they will go after the distributors and dealers that are profited from the head-in-the-sand approach from earlier. Maybe then there will be hope to get the users cleaned up as well!
Joe O'Donnell November 15, 2012 at 09:29 PM
Thanks for the comment, J Simon. Berlin at the program detailed above really emphasized parents' responsibility. Though the amount of heroin that can get a dealer locked up has been lowered, the state's attorney made it sound like the dealers aren't going anywhere if the demand doesn't go down.
Jeff November 16, 2012 at 12:10 AM
This is not a criminal issue, it is a societal issue and prohibition only makes the allure more enticing to our youth and results in more crime in our neighborhoods. Accidents will happen and people will OD but the net result will remain the same regardless of whether the substance is legal or illegal. Kids would feel worse if their peers viewed them negatively vs. the threat of law enforcement and many adults cannot grasp that concept. Embedded deep in our psyche is the desire to experiment regardless of risk and you will always find youth brave enough to take the risk. To compound matters we aren’t as much of a 2nd chance society as some would like to pretend thus prohibition keeps people from changing more than it helps them change. The false propaganda campaign from the US government just causes more disinformation confusing the issue of drug abuse rather than addressing it head on. The fact is kids think this stuff is cool so they continue to pursue it. My interest in this topic is selfish however. Many, many far more serious crimes are directly or indirectly related to the prohibition of these substances. Just ask the South Side of Chicago. I am capable of teaching my children what to do and not do and for those that aren’t let us spend the money fighting abuse by changing our children’s attitudes vs. throwing them in jail or watching them die. Education is the ONLY remedy to this issue - if not heroin people will come up with other drugs not even invented yet.

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