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if their grades slip, if they start hanging out with new friends, or if their personality changes and they become more withdrawn.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.