Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation last week to expand the state’s fight against heroin use in communities across Illinois. The new law increases the scope of a special task force created last year to study heroin use in Illinois and to make recommendations to increase awareness and prevention.
Bureau County Sheriff John Thompson said though it’s good the governor realizes there is a heroin crisis, that crisis won’t be stifled until the United States can stop heroin from being brought into the country. Heroin is a drug that is not grown within the United States but is imported through the country’s borders and ports. Until those borders and ports are secured, there will be a problem with heroin, Thompson said.
Heroin has become an epidemic that is killing communities, Thompson said. Locally, heroin was introduced into Bureau County in the late 1990s or early 2000, he said.
“Though heroin doesn’t seem to be increasing within Bureau County, I don’t want that to be misleading … Heroin is still a terrible problem in the county,” Thompson said. “The presence of heroin is significant.”
At last week’s training conference through the Illinois Sheriff’s Association, the heroin crisis was discussed, and the association will soon have information on its website dealing with heroin and other drug abuse problems. Authorities are seeing that heroin addiction happens in not just young people, but in middle-aged people as well. As an example, DuPage has had seen people ranging from 19 years to 55 years die from heroin, the sheriff said.
When parents tell him their child is addicted to heroin, Thompson helps them find a resource to help the addicted person get treatment and clean of drugs. To maintain a drug-free life, his best recommendation is to get the person out of that environment and away from old friends, which usually means moving away, he said.
Another recent concern in the battle against drugs has been a resurgence of LSD, a drug used more often seen in the 1960s, Thompson said. Though it hasn’t reached epidemic proportions yet, it is a concern to him when he sees a resurgence of a drug like LSD.
As far as a local drug awareness and prevention outreach, the Community Partners Against Substance Abuse (CPASA) continues its efforts in educating the public about the dangers of drug use, CPASA coordinator Dawn Conerton said Thursday.
Area law enforcement and health care partners have reported heroin as a definite problem in the Bureau/Putnam counties area for the past couple of years, Conerton said. She has not seen hard numbers on heroin from any of CPASA’s traditional drug information sources, but she is aware the law enforcement is devoting significant attention to this issue.
CPASA’s educational programs for youth and adults try to hit on as many substances as possible and especially on those identified as being current or ongoing threats to local communities. CPASA has discussed heroin in its various programs for some time, she said.
As far as helping parents help their kids stay clear of drugs, Conerton said there is a new underage drinking campaign called “Talk-They Hear You” for parents. The campaign has implications beyond alcohol and CPASA encourages parents to talk to their kids about all substances, she said.
In the case of heroin, it is becoming easier to get heroin in uncommon forms, which also means parents need to become better informed about what the drug looks like and how it is being distributed, Conerton said.
A Look at Heroin
• Heroin is an illegal, highly addictive drug processed from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seed pod of certain varieties of poppy plants.
• Heroin is typically sold as a white or brownish powder that is “cut” with sugars, starch, powdered milk or quinine.
• Pure heroin is a white powder with a bitter taste that predominantly originates in South America, and to a lesser extent, from Southeast Asia and dominates U.S. markets east of the Mississippi River.
• “Black tar” heroin is sticky like roofing tar or hard like coal and is predominantly produced in Mexico and sold in U.S. areas west of the Mississippi River.
• Highly pure heroin can be snorted or smoked and may be more appealing to new users because it eliminates the stigma associated with injection drug use.
• According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2012 about 669,000 Americans reported using heroin in the past year, a number that has been on the rise since 2007. This trend appears to be driven largely by young adults aged 18–25 among whom there have been the greatest increases.
• Repeated heroin use changes the physical structure and physiology of the brain, creating long-term imbalances in neuronal and hormonal systems that are not easily reversed.
• A variety of effective treatments are available for heroin addiction, including both behavioral and pharmacological (medications). Both approaches help to restore a degree of normalcy to brain function and behavior, resulting in increased employment rates and lower risk of HIV and other diseases and criminal behavior.
Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse.