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Area leaders pool talents to get a start on fight against heroin

Cook County Commissioner Liz Gorman, right, and Orland Fire Protection Battalion Chief Michael Schofield helped bring in more than 50 community leaders to talk about the war on heroin Wednesday night. (Jeff Vorva/Tribune)

Cook County Commissioner Liz Gorman, right, and Orland Fire Protection Battalion Chief Michael Schofield helped bring in more than 50 community leaders to talk about the war on heroin Wednesday night. (Jeff Vorva/Tribune)

Local police, fire and school leaders and teen counselors gathering in Orland Park said the war against teenage heroin will be a long slog and take more than just talk to get it done.

Fifteen community leaders attended a meeting on heroin use hosted by Orland Township and more than 50 others showed up at a talk hosted by Cook County Commissioner Liz Gorman and Orland Fire Protection District Battalion Chief Michael Schofield. Both events were held March 14.

“It used to be that heroin was associated with people in the big cities,” Schofield said. “Now it’s the football heroes and homecoming queens who are using it. I just retired as a fire chief in Homer Glen and there was a time people were referring to it as ‘Heroin Glen.’ ”

Orland Township counselor Cheryl Kokaska said that it’s become a “Cook County-wide, state-wide and nationwide problem” and that it is affecting students from all walks of life.

Many at the two meetings shared stories of heroin deaths including Orland School District 135 board member Ann Gentile, whose niece died recently from what was believed to be a heroin overdose.

“As a parent of four children and as a community member, I’m extremely concerned about this,” she said. “When it comes to the awareness level, we think we’re doing all that we can but we’re not. We can do more.”

Orland Park Police Sgt. Scott Malmborg, left, and officer Wayne Lee took part in a heroin information meeting at the Orland Township offices Wednesday morning. (Jeff Vorva/Tribune)

Orland Park Police Sgt. Scott Malmborg calls heroin “the drug of choice” and that it’s easy for students to get the product and they can take it in many different forms. He said that anyone who tries it once can easily get hooked.

He said it’s hard to pinpoint how much growth among young users there has been in the area. He said officers are going over old reports from recent years to try to find out and that a new report-writing system will help track the problem with more accuracy.

Will County Coroner statistics show 30 heroin overdose deaths in the county in the past three years.

Before these leaders open up future meetings to the public, they want a unified game plan. Orland Township is planning a May symposium for parents, possibly bringing in guest speaker David Lee, a former drug addict who is the founder of Intervention Services and Technologies Inc.

Lewis University will host a daylong Hero Helps Conference April 13, which will include speeches, seminars and a rock concert. Everyone from students to parents to judges and community leaders are invited.

Getting all of these various groups together to work as one is vital, according to Homer Glen’s John Roberts, a former Chicago police captain whose son overdosed on heroin close to a decade ago. He suggests that police and fire officials communicate better as should grade school and high school district officials.

Will County Judge Ray Nash said parents should be more aware of what this drug can do and how much it has filtered into area school systems.

“The parents don’t always believe me – it’s hard for me to believe it myself,” he said. “In my generation…I can promise you the word ‘heroin’ never came up. With all the silly, stupid, crazy things my generation did, heroin was not one of them.’’

Representatives from the Tinley Park, Lemont, Joliet, Western Springs and Palos communities also took part in Wednesday’s meetings. Schofield said it helped “get a foot in the door” with the fight.

“We’re all going to pool our resources and make this work,” Gorman said. “The way to get there and to structure a plan is going to be the toughest part. This is the starting point and we need an organized approach. But there were a lot of good people taking part in this, so I’m optimistic.”

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