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Hundreds learn about perils of heroin at HERO HELPS event

Will County Executive Larry Walsh (from left), Health Department Director John Cicero, and keynote speaker Jeff Coady speak before the HERO HELPS forum on April 13 began.   (Photo courtesy of Will County Executive Larry Walsh’s office)

Will County Executive Larry Walsh (from left), Health Department Director John Cicero, and keynote speaker Jeff Coady speak before the HERO HELPS forum on April 13 began. (Photo courtesy of Will County Executive Larry Walsh’s office)

ROMEOVILLE – More than 600 people took the first step toward creating a Will County with less heroin during a multi-generational summit at Lewis University on Friday, April 13.
HERO HELPS was co-sponsored by HERO, Heroin Epidemic Relief Organization, and Will County HELPS, Heroin Education Leads to Preventative Solutions, a prevention and education initiative led by Will County Executive Larry Walsh in response to the number of fatal heroin overdoses in the county.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is just a start,” said Walsh. “We will prove as a village – as a community – we can lick this problem.”
Keynote speaker Jeff Coady, a board-certified clinical psychologist and leader in developing and implementing substance use disorder and mental health services on a national level, told the crowd that “Recovery… is a process of change.”
Coady is the regional administrator for the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of Region V, which encompasses Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin. SAMHSA’s mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America's communities.
“More than 90 percent of Americans with substance abuse problems do not receive treatment,’ he said. An estimated $510 billion in productivity is lost each year to substance abuse problems, including heroin.
He was impressed by the diversity of concerned residents at the forum, pointing out attendance by students, parents and grandparents.
Forum coordinator Paul Lauridsen, in referencing the fact that the event was being held in a large arena where athletes – or gym rats — often practiced, encouraged the crowd to become “health rats” focusing on keeping our residents from addiction to heroin and other opiates, as well as overdose death.
“Our hope is that we can prevent many people from ever starting,” he said.
The forum also featured four concurrent educational sessions: law enforcement/criminal justice; counseling and social work; health care; and education and prevention.
Other speakers at the daylong event were Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow, Coroner Pat O’Neil, Health Department Director John Cicero and Judge Ray Nash.
Also, Kris Adzia, from the Robert Crown Center for Health Education, Kelli Bettenhausen from the Joliet Township High School District, and several medical and mental health professionals.
O’Neil stressed the need for education to keep heroin use at bay, pointing out that his office is the “last stop” for heroin addicts. Since 1999, his office has recorded 205 heroin fatalities.
The daylong event concluded with a youth rally, featuring live music.
HELPS has developed a three-prong educational attack on heroin deaths by producing public service announcements that can be seen on local cable television or at www.willcountyillinois.com, organizing a cadre of speakers to address schools and community organizations across the county, and working with Robert Crown Center for Health Education to develop a heroin education curriculum to implement in Will County schools in the 2012-2013 school year.
The heroin education curriculum is a vital piece in stemming this problem. “This is not a quick fix,” said Robert Crown’s Kathleen Burke. “This is not one class in ninth grade.”

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