John Roberts thought the best way to fight drug use was to put every dealer he could find in a jail cell.
Since the retired Chicago police officer lost his 19-year-old son to a heroin overdose, he looked for another way to take on drug use. He started the Heroin Epidemic Relief Organization, or HERO, with Brian Kirk, another father who have lost his son to an overdose. The group’s purpose is to educate and offer support to those experiencing addiction firsthand among their loved ones.
“I think we have to take a step back and find out what leads to our kids doing this stuff,” Roberts said. “Let’s stop number of kids going into this problem.”
On March 14, over 60 law enforcement personnel, mental health professionals, emergency medical technicians, firefighters, municipal officials and educational staff gathered at the administrative building to look for a joint-solution to a growing number drug-related deaths in the area.
Orland Fire Battalion Chief Michael Schofield and Cook County Commissioner Liz Gorman organized the summit. Schofield, who works with people who have lost family and loved ones to drugs in a program , said until about 3 years ago, he could count the drug overdoses he encountered in Orland and Home Glen on one hand. But in 2012 alone, cases are coming in almost each week, he said.
“We asked high school students and they said kids were shooting up on the bus, and buying it on their way home,” Schofield said. “So who will take lead? Police? Fire? Schools? Kids using are stuck out there on their own. The point is to try and come up with singular plan moving forward.”
One combined effort will be a conference and community forum, with speakers, literature and resources available for attendees on April 13 at Lewis University from 9:30 a.m. to 2:15 p.m., and then an additional youth rally from 6 p.m.-8 p.m.
The following are views from a few of the participants at the March meeting.
Will County Judge Ray Nash
“Even as a former prosecutor it’s difficult to get my mind around this,” Nash said, after pointing out that in 2008 there were 17 fatal overdoses in his area, and 30 in 2011. “This is a potent form. You can’t experiment with this drug. Chicago leads the entire country in heroin addiction and I don’t know why. Coroners are sharing a statewide database, but laws prevent ER nurses from saying anything. We need smart people in the state to draft legislation to work with that.”
Kathleen M. Burke, CEO of the Robert Crown Center
“We have a huge prescription pain killer addiction in this country,” Burke said, while describing findings of the center’s research into teen heroin use. “It is strongly connected to heroin use. It’s cheaper, easier to get and they become addicted to (pills) fast. They don’t really know what addiction is. Often they think prescription drugs are safe because they are prescription drugs.”
Ron Ovitt, Calvary Church Executive Pastor
“The trouble with addiction is it's emotionally learned. We can do all the cognitive therapy until we’re blue in the face, but until they re-learn emotionally who they are, progress will be delayed.”
Westchester Police Chief April Padalik
“We need to get the parents on board again. Too many parents don’t want to admit that their child has the problem. We need funding for this, and we need to change laws to address this particular issue.”
For more information about the April 13 conference and rally, and other information about heroin in the area, visit the HERO webpage.