LZ takes action against drug abuse

julia kuhn, bear facts features writer

Heroin was once thought of as living in the alleyways of the rough inner city, but it has found a new home in the suburbs.

“Heroin is not only a problem in Lake Zurich, but in every community,” Tom O’Connell, Lake Zurich Police Officer, said. “The Lake Zurich Police deal with something involving heroin on a monthly basis. It is an issue in Lake Zurich, and it’s also an issue in the Chicago land area.”

According to Michelle Hines, LZHS parent and Ela Coalition Against Substance Abuse member, one reason why heroin use is increasing is the evolving nature of heroin has allowed the drug to be snorted and smoked, as well as injected.

“Heroin has definitely evolved over the years. The heroin manufactured today is around 15 times more powerful than in the past,” Hines said. “Heroin is also more pure, and this allows heroin to be snorted or smoked, so it’s more appealing to the casual drug user.”

Statistics show heroin use is an issue in suburbs around major cities. The county coroner’s office reported there have been 65 heroin deaths in the Chicagoland suburbs in 2010, according to the Daily Herald.

“There have been at least two overdoses this year of LZHS alumni…we lost an 18 year old a couple of months ago and a 23 year old as well,” Hines said. “Heroin in affluent suburbs are becoming practically an epidemic.”

According to O’Connell, the increase in heroin use has led to an increase in heroin overdoses that the Lake Zurich Police deal with. 

“I would say we’re dealing more with it now than in the past.” O’Connell said. “I have dealt with a heroin overdose, and it’s very sad. Most parents usually know there is a drug problem with their kid. But it’s very sad knowing that these drugs caused the death or hospitalization of a young person.”

According to O’Connell, the average age group of heroin users is 18 to 25 years old. Young people are more susceptible to heroin because of their lack of knowledge about the drug. Hines organized a drug forum to educate parents and teens in February, 2010.

 “Heroin use in increasing in teens because teens aren’t as knowledgeable, so they are more vulnerable,” Hines said. “In the suburbs, heroin isn’t as familiar as it may be in the inner city. Kids don’t see people on heroin, they don’t see the bad of it, and they don’t understand how deadly it is and how fast a person gts hooked.”

Heroin is particularly addictive because it enters the brain so rapidly after injection or inhalation and can cause withdrawal symptoms within hours of the last dose.

“It has been proven scientifically that heroin is highly addictive, and someone that tries to get off it finds it’s a hard drug to stop,” O’Connell said. “Heroin is a very powerful drug. The first or second time you use it, you can get addicted.”

The extreme addictiveness of heroin may be unknown to those tempted to try it, but the first heroin use could become the start of an addiction.

“A lot of people don’t know you can become addicted after one use. After the first use, the brain will continue to chase the feeling of the first high, and that’s what causes addiction,” Hines said. “Heroin is highly addictive, and the user’s body will crave it more than anything, the body will need it so bad that’s all the mind can think of. They become a completely different person.”

 Once someone is addicted to heroin, the road to recovery can be long and strenuous.

“Becoming sober is very hard, if someone’s lucky, it takes five or more years,” Hines said. “Most addicts end up going to rehab over and over until they become sober, if they get sober.”

To prevent against addiction, one of the most important things is a strong support group of family and friends, according to O’Connell.

“Having a strong family is key to prevent any substance abuse problem. People that have a strong support group will be less likely to get into drugs,” O’Connell said. “Some parents don’t watch their kids as close as they should, or some single parent families might leave their kids alone too much and the kids have too much free time. Those things…put kids more at risk.”

Since heroin is purely a street drug, the concentration of heroin fluctuates between each sample, leaving users unaware of how much heroin can cause an overdose.

“Heroin users can die really easily because heroin can have anything in it, and they don’t know how concentrated the heroin is or how much their body can tolerate,” Hines said. “It’s hard to know what the strength is, and if they do the wrong amount, it can be deadly. Each time a user does heroin they are risking their life.”