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Officials Targeting Will County's Rising Heroin Problem

The drug is more dangerous than ever and more people are using it; officials, meanwhile, are working on solutions.

Officials Targeting Will County's Rising Heroin Problem

As use appears to be rising, local officials are trying to be more vigilant in monitoring and addressing Will County’s heroin problem.

“This is an issue of tremendous concern,” said Chuck Pelkie, spokesman for Will County State Attorney Jim Glasgow. “This is no longer the junkie shooting up in a basement. High school teens have access to it and it is the drug of choice for teens from affluent families and communities.”

Fortunately, Channahon has not seen this increase and has experienced just two overdoses in the last 10 years. However, because the police department regularly receives updates on area drug trends, it is ready to meet the problem head-on, should it occur.

“It’s not been as significant as cannabis or crack cocaine,” said Channahon Deputy Police Chief Jeff Wold. “But we haven’t had any fatalities with that.”

From Jan. 1 to May 1 of this year, there were 17 heroin overdoses in Will County, as compared to 26 cases in all of 2010. Especially insidious is the fact that it’s difficult to detect heroin use by sight alone. Gone are the “track marks” that in the past had stamped a person as a heroin addict, Will County Coroner Patrick K. O’Neil said.

“These youngsters are smoking it and snorting it and not leaving any marks behind,” O’Neill said.

Heroin started making its comeback in Will County in the early to mid-1990s. In 2008, the county had 17 cases related to heroin overdoses. The following year, there were 29. Today’s heroin, O'Neil said, is especially lethal.

“This heroin coming in is pure, highly addictive and you can find it on the street for $5 or $10,” O’Neil said.

Cries for help accompany the increased use. Paul Lauridsen, clinical director of Stepping Stones Treatment and Recovery Center in Joliet, said the number of people seeking treatment for heroin addiction has dramatically increased.

In the past, only about 10 percent of Stepping Stones’ clients suffered from heroin addiction. Today, it is close to 26 percent, with the addiction affecting a broad section of the community, Lauridsen said.

The tricky part about treating heroin addiction, experts say, is that it frequently requires multiple treatments for success. Users increase their odds of a fatal overdose by combining heroin with alcohol or other medication. They also are most susceptible after stopping the drug and then restarting it.

“When they use it again, it’s an amount they were used to using,” Lauridsen said. “That alone can kill them.

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