Forum attendees learn suburban heroin use real, deadly
Wilmette Chief of Police Brian King speaks during a heroin education forum at the Wilmette Public Library Wednesday, January 9, 2013 in Wilmette. I David Banks~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 19, 2013 1:03PM
WILMETTE — Wilmette Police Chief Brian King made his warning brief and blunt when he kicked off last week’s heroin education forum at the Wilmette Public Library: “Heroin is more available now than at any time in recent memory.”
Far from being a drug of the urban poor, King told about 50 people Jan. 9, it has become dangerously popular with suburban teens and young adults who don’t understand how it can destroy their lives.
Wilmette police have dealt with more heroin-related crime over the past three years than ever before, King said. That includes purchases, overdoses and deaths, as well as crimes perpetrated by young addicts – the average age of people involved in their cases was 26, but individuals were as young as 19, he said – who need money to pay for their habits.
In 2010, the department recorded one heroin-related incident. It had 10 in 2011, and at least eight incidents in 2012. Since 2010 police have dealt with four fatal overdoses, two in town and two of Wilmette residents who died elsewhere, he said.
King urged parents to learn about heroin and the signs of use and addiction before it can capture loved ones, whether that’s physical signs like lethargy and constricted pupils, or changes in lifestyle, friends or grooming.
He and other speakers, including Glenview parent P.J. Newberg, also told listeners to be wary of children abusing prescription drugs. Pills are a major gateway for young people who graduate to heroin, they said.
Newberg, whose 18-year-old daughter became addicted shortly after starting heroin use as a 16-year-old, called the continuing experience “a nightmare.” Her daughter has been in treatment multiple times, steals to pay for her habit and continues to use despite losing four friends to overdoses, she said. Her daughter is now in jail and Newberg said she does not know how her story will end.
Wilmette Police Sgt. Michael Robinson said users can now buy heroin that is cheap, yet unadulterated enough – 90 percent pure, as opposed to the 25 percent purity common in the 1980s – to allow them to smoke or snort it, at least before their addiction grows. Because they don’t immediately have to inject it, users can dismiss using heroin as simple experimentation, he said.
Department social worker Olivia Chui told the audience that families faced with heroin use need to respond quickly, adding, “Do everything you can to fight the battle because it’s a battle worth fighting.“
Chui said people can call her to ask questions, or to seek help for themselves or others; she does not give such information to police officers, she and King said.
After the forum, Wilmette resident Lucine Nergesian said she was surprised to hear of the problem: “In our generation, the stigma was so strong, that to know it’s so accessible is a shock.”
Glenview resident Maggie Bieniewski, said she has known for several years that the northern suburbs have a heroin problem. She graduated from Glenbrook South High School in 2008,she said, and “it’s touched a lot of people I know.”
To view forum information, visit www.wilmette.com/departments/police and click on the links under the heroin use forum section. To contact Chui, call her direct line at 847-853-7566 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To contact Robinson, email email@example.com. To contact Newberg, call 847-207-4121, or email, firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit her site, www.northshoresecretheroinproblem.com.