Roosevelt University: Media Writing and Reporting Unveiling Heroin Issue

Welcome to Naperville, where quaint shops line the downtown’s main street, manicured neighborhoods feature illuminated street signs, and a river winds its way past a majestic clock tower.

Hard to believe this little slice of heaven located roughly 35 miles west of Chicago has become a suburban battlefield in the war on heroin.

“This area has a good reputation, people are concerned with this dragging down the school's reputation,” said Susan Panther, a mother of a student who attends Neuqua Valley High School, in Naperville. Like a growing number of parents, Panther hopes to raise awareness about this issue.

Indeed, the town’s police department warned hundreds of residents gathered at town hall meetings this month that the so-called “heroin highway” - Interstates I-290 and I-88 - has become the highway to hell for teens and their families in this western suburb.

Now, community leaders are determined to end the culture of silence and raise awareness about an epidemic that is plaguing this affluent community.

“It's very difficult to pinpoint it,” said Kathie Kane-Willis, Director of the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy. “People get an idea that it's happening, and it's easy to find news articles about it. But it's very hard, because the way the data is captured to separate suburb from city.”

Kimberly Groll, a counselor who also writes a column for the town’s local newspaper, The Naperville Sun, is involved in this fight. “What could be so bad in their life that kids are engaging in this drug?” said Groll.

“It's happening everywhere,” Groll added. “People just don't assume drug problems happen here... It's a sad and dangerous drug. I don't think kids realize how bad it is.”

In an April 5 town hall meeting, representatives from the Naperville Police Department presented information about heroin use and prevention. The presentation encouraged parents to take an active role in addressing the issue of heroin addiction in the community.

"Heroin is a very social drug until you are dead," said Naperville Detective Shaun Ferguson. He went on to say users are often abandoned by their cohorts once he or she has overdosed, because the latter do not want to suffer any consequences.

According to a study published by the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy, “Understanding Suburban Heroin Use,” there are nearly 34,000 youth’s ages 12 to 17 that will use heroin in a given year. “Heroin has one of the highest dependency liability profiles of any licit or illicit drug--only nicotine ranks higher,” the study stated. “As such, the fear the public may have about the increasing heroin use among young people is understandable. Of those who are offered heroin, about 20 percent will try it, and of those, 25 percent will proceed to dependency.”

According to Ferguson, a heroin addict has a “50/50” chance to be killed by heroin. Naperville felony drug use has increased by 78 percent in people 14 to 19-years-old. There have been three documented heroin overdoses in Naperville this year, which resulted in one death, he said.

After a heroin overdose in November 2011 took the life of her 18-year-old daughter, Megan, mother Amy Miller, was beckoned to this fight so that a similar tragedy would never happen again.

“By getting it out in the open, you can't be embarrassed about this,” said Miller, speaking on teen heroin addiction.

Rylee Palko, a 16-year-old recovering heroin addict, is a prime example of a teen led down a path of destruction by heroin. At the age of 13, Palko was admitted as an outpatient in the Linden Oaks Outpatient Center at Edward Hospital in Naperville. “I just remember sitting there laughing and saying how much I like it, how much I like the feeling of it,” said Palko.

“A year ago, I went to a halfway house for six months. A sober living house where staff watches over you. It's like rehab but you have more freedom,” said Palko. She now regularly attends group support sessions, including heroin anonymous.
“The highway we used to [drive to] the West side of Chicago where the drug dealers live. Almost everyone I knew back then that were doing heroin went over there,” said Palko, recalling trips she had made to buy heroin. The effect heroin has had on Palko's life chronicles an issue that over 30,000 young American's face every year.

“For someone who wants to get off it… There’s really no advice you can give someone who’s actively using, they have to know their limit to stop,” said Palko.

Physical Effects of Heroin, Information from the Illinois Consortium of Drug Policy

•Heroin and other opiates can be injected, sniffed/snorted, smoked or used orally. In the brain, opiates bind with opiate receptors.

•The long-term effects of heroin use can be very serious, particularly if it is injected. Heroin users are at increased risk of contracting HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B/C, and other infectious diseases, due to sharing needles and other injection equipment.

•Other long-term medical complications include collapsed veins, bacterial infections, abscesses, infections in the heart lining and valves, lung complications, liver and kidney disease, and arthritis and other rheumatologic problems.

•Opiate users also experience extreme degrees of tolerance and physical dependency, which increase the prevalence of compulsive use, misuse and addiction.

•Physically dependent opiate users may experience withdrawal symptoms including nausea, vomiting, cold flashes, insomnia and muscle and bone pain.

For more information visit:

Naperville Police Department Narcotics Impact Presentation


Naperville Public Library Follow-up Program and Forum Information

Understanding Suburban Heroin Use: Research Findings from the Reed Hruby Heroin Prevention Project at the Robert Crown Center for Health Education – EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The following Media Writing and Reporting class reporters contributed to this story: Ifeoluwase E. Alade, Lamar Colyer III, Christina Diltz, Jarrett Duncan, Erica E. Ford, Cayla Hicks, Holly Kotyza, Giacomo A. Luca, Garrett Meeks, Ryan Quante, Michael Vivirito, Latricia Cherise Wilson

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