Commander John Keating still gets chills thinking about an emergency call he went on while working with a homicide task force.
He walked up the stairs at a home, and saw a picture of a father and son holding a big walleye caught on a fishing trip. At the top of the stairs, he found the son overdosed and died.
“When you’ve notified a parent about an overdose death it’s heartbreaking,” Keating said. “They say ‘I knew he had a problem, but I just didn’t know where to go or what to do. I was embarrassed.’”
Keating was among three speakers at Orland Township’s Community Link Symposium on May 1 at Carl Sandburg High School to offer attendees views on what police have seen, and what addicts and their families can do locally to get help. Interventionist David Lee shared his own story of addiction, while Rosecrance Community Relations Coordinator Mary Egan offered how the Frankfort-based treatment facility operates, and what family members can do to help a loved one struggling with addiction.
In 2010, Keating said Orland Park police encountered 10 heroin overdoses, two ending in death. By May 2012, they had seen five overdoses, though no one died.
A majority of retail thefts police handle are addiction-driven, he said. When a theft arrest is made, officers specifically ask if they are stealing to feed an addiction.
“Some statistics out there that say 50 percent of crime related occurrences are related to heroin,” Keating said. “My personal opinion is it’s higher than 50 percent.”
But what isn’t seen in Orland Park or in nearby towns are people peddling drugs out on street corners, he said.
“We’re seeing the end user going into Chicago, going into the southeastern suburbs, and they’re picking up their heroin and coming back here to Orland Park,” Keating said. “Sometimes they don’t even wait when they pick up in the city. We’ve had surveillance on them. They’ll stop at a gas station, or a Walgreens even, and shoot up. Or they’ll shoot up in the car, and then they drive back.”
People are not found with black tar heroin. The most frequently found type lately is white and powdery, looking like baking soda, and is often confused with cocaine, Keating said.
One dealer recently caught by police was using Facebook to solicit orders.
“He posted ‘I need a ride, how many packets do my people need?’” Keating said. “It wasn’t so much he was dealing outside of his inner circle. Maybe five to 10 (people) we’d come up with.”
Keeping an eye on how teens communicate through social media and text messages is a method where parents can possibly find out about drug use, Keating said.
Families should also watch for items in the house that go missing. Detectives at a residential burglary will ask what family members and friends have any access to the house, in case the crime was to feed addiction.
In one case, a father who has repeatedly put his son into drug treatment found a key piece of his house was missing.
“He comes home one day and turns on the water. No water,” Keating said. “His son cut the copper piping out of the house to turn it in and sell it. That’s how dangerous heroin is. I never saw that with crack cocaine and cocaine.”
Parents need to be willing to confront the possibility that their child is facing addiction head on, and forget any notion of shame associated with it, Keating said.
“If your son or daughter makes a bad decision, a lot of times that has no reflection on the parent,” Keating said. “You loved them. You cared for them. You nurtured them. You did all the right things. But kids and young adults do stupid things and make mistakes. I recognize that, but you have to stay after them.”
Among the reasons why parents need to be involved is local law enforcement won’t solve the rise in heroin use simply by putting many people in jail.
“We’re not that naïve in law enforcement. We know we’re not going to arrest our way out of this problem,” Keating said. “Aggressive enforcement is one of our goals. We agree on that. But to develop the intelligence and develop strategies with local communities to try to address that problem, that’s one of the things we’re really focusing on now.”
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