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'Nothing short of an epidemic' : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
'Nothing short of an epidemic'
Law enforcement, counselors warn of heroin's spread in suburbs

by Tony Scott


Heroin used to be a scourge seen only in the seediest of metropolitan areas, but it has made its way out into the suburbs in recent years, according to a panel of experts at a forum for parents and students at Oswego High School last Thursday.

Not only is heroin delivered differently - no longer with a dirty needle and spoon, per the junkie stereotype, but via snorting and smoking, a much more palatable option for teens afraid of needles - it is much pure than it was decades ago, according to some panel members.

The "Danger In Our Backyard" forum was sponsored by State Rep. Tom Cross, R-Oswego, and State Rep. Kay Hatcher, R-Yorkville.

Terri Koller of Oswego, whose daughter, Jenna, died of a heroin overdose; Bill Patrianakos, a Joliet resident who is a recovered addict; and John Roberts, co-founder of the Heroin Epidemic Relief Organization, or HERO, who lost his teenage son Billy to a heroin overdose in 2009, spoke to the crowd.

Beth Sack of Oswego, manager of addiction services with Linden Oaks at Edward; Patty Marcinko, director of student services at Oswego High School; and Oswego Police Detective Brad Delphey rounded out the group.

'Here, try this...'

Roberts, a retired Chicago police captain, formed HERO in 2009 with a fellow father who lost his son to a heroin overdose, and did so after finding out how prevalent the drug was in the suburbs.

"I was shocked to find out that heroin was out in Homer Glen and Will County," Roberts said.

Roberts, who teaches law enforcement courses at Lewis University, said he researched the outreach of heroin on the suburbs.

"What I've found is nothing short of an epidemic that is spreading across our communities and our nation," he said.

Roberts said a Roosevelt University study claimed that Chicago is "the epicenter of the heroin problem" in the United States, but said he's been contacted by parents throughout the country who have seen their kids die of overdoses.

Last year in Will County, there were 54 heroin overdose deaths, and 136 deaths in Will, DuPage and Lake County, Roberts said. There were also 24,000 people who were rushed to emergency rooms for overdose, and were saved by a "miracle drug" called Naloxone, he said.

According to the Kendall County Coroner's Office, there were 10 drug overdose deaths in the county in 2012.

Roberts said heroin is "flooding across our border."

"Heroin is now the drug of choice in the City of Chicago," he said. "Most of the cocaine is going to Europe. The single most important problem they are facing in Chicago with drugs is heroin."

Roberts said that when he began his career as a police officer in 1973, the purity of heroin was four to seven percent. It's now on average 20 percent pure, he said.

"It's so powerful, you don't have to inject it anymore," he said. "People my age, we all remember the tourniquet and scarred arms of a heroin addict. That's no longer the case."

Roberts' son, Billy, told him that he had tried heroin when a friend offered it to him.

"He was getting a ride home from somebody from work, and he handed him a pipe and said, 'Here, try this,'" he said. "I spoke to a group of students today at Lewis University and I said, I hate those words: when another kid says, 'Here, try this.'"

Roberts said heroin was once relegated to "hidden enclaves," but can now be purchased out in the open from 150 to 175 "open air drug markets" in certain neighborhoods on the west side of Chicago. And the dealers give suburban kids special treatment, he said.

"They wave them to the head of the line," he said. "Where most of their market would be a bag or two at $10 a bag, when they see a suburban kid pull up, they know they're gonna buy a handful of bags."

Roberts said parents have to "admit there is a serious problem in your community."

"You have to admit there is a problem; the evidence is there," he said. "Tell everybody you know and help them spread the word."

However, he said, the problem should not be considered one to be handled just by throwing addicts in jail.

"We can no longer expect the police to fight this war on drugs alone," he said. "We cannot win this war on drugs. We need the help of everyone we can get involved in this fight. We can't win this war by just locking them up."

He added, "I challenge everybody, including my police colleagues: if our strategies are working, then why are the deaths going up, why are the treatment admissions going up, why are so many people being raced to emergency rooms? We're not winning this war. So I challenge everybody, can we admit, can we have the courage to say that maybe what we're doing isn't working, and look for new and better ways to fight this war?"

Linden Oaks rep:
beware of gateway drugs like pot

Sack, however, said parents need to be more vigilant about preventing the use of alcohol and marijuana, which she described as gateway drugs to heroin abuse. She stressed that marijuana smoking is going up because it's being perceived as not as dangerous as other drugs.

"So the more kids think, oh, it's not a big deal, the more we see that going up," she said.

Sack said the movement to legalize marijuana "complicates" the message.

"What kind of complicates that for us is, we're looking at legalization of marijuana," she said. "We look in our media and social places, and Facebook and Twitter and all those kinds of things, and people look at marijuana as not that big a deal anymore, so when people keep hearing that message, they think, oh, I'll go ahead and use it. Fewer teens are believing that marijuana use is really dangerous."

Signs to look for in someone who has used marijuana include dilated pupils, bloodshot eyes, sleepy appearance, reduced motivation, difficulty thinking, and dry mouth, Sack said.

"Sometimes there's inappropriate laughter, increased appetite, reduced coordination," she said.

Sack also gave signs to look for if their child has used opiates, including heroin. They include pinpoint pupils, pale skin, and "nodding" or falling asleep suddenly. She also pointed out that heroin withdrawal often looks like the flu.

Daughter died of overdose;
says teens 'secretive'

Koller said her daughter Jenna, a 2003 Oswego High School graduate, drank during her senior year of high school. Jenna took off after high school for a year and a half, but came back home and "wanted to do better with her life," her mother said.

"She got a job and was doing well, and then it went downhill fast," Koller said of Jenna. "She met a boy at an Oswego hotel where she was employed and that was the first time she ever tried heroin."

Koller said Jenna told her family that she was using drugs and needed help, but didn't specifically mention heroin. When she told her team in rehab about the heroin use, she asked them not to tell her parents, Koller said.

"She did get into a drug program, and seemed to be progressing, but she left the program after six months, because she thought she could do it on her own," Koller said. "What a bad decision that was."

Koller continued, "She befriended another boy that was also in rehab. They tried to keep it together on their own, and failed. I convinced her once again to enroll back in a drug program, and she agreed. The night before she was to go back into the drug rehab program, Jenna and this boy bought heroin one last time. Jenna died that night."

Koller said she never knew her daughter was using heroin until two weeks before she died.

"She never shared the info with even her long-time close friends," she said.

A friend once approached Koller when she found out her child was abusing drugs, and said she couldn't believe it was happening to their family.

"She said, 'How could this happen to me? We are a good family,'" she said. "The truth is, it can happen to anyone. Parents will not know. Kids are experts at being secretive. You may have prescription drugs from an illness in your medicine cabinet that you had forgotten about, or saving in case you need it. They will find it."

Recovered addict on
opiates: 'I fell in love'

Patrianakos said even though he was described as "recovered addict" in the forum's program, he sees himself as more than that. He founded his own web design firm and is on the board of directors of the HERO organization, according to HERO's website.

Patrianakos said he grew up in the suburbs - Oak Forest and Homer Glen - in upper-middle class neighborhoods, with parents who had good jobs.

"I come from not the kind of family that anyone would associate with drug use," he said.

His grades were good, he was in honors classes, he competed on his school's track team, he said.

"I breezed through life," he said.

But Patrianakos said he suffered from depression from a young age. His parents got divorced in his senior year of high school as well, and he said he didn't realize how much that affected him at the time.

Patrianakos headed off to college as a pre-med student at Loyola University in Chicago. However, he dropped out after less than a year because he said he was "taking drugs all the time."

Before college, he had drank once or twice, and was introduced to pot as a high school senior, he said.

"All these things were happening, and I don't have good coping skills," he said.

At Loyola, he was smoking weed on a regular basis, was introduced to cocaine and began using that on a regular basis, he said.

"I started letting some things go," he said. "Instead of studying, I would be snorting coke. Instead of visiting my family for the weekend, I'm off drinking, I'm putting something in me that makes me feel not like myself."

Patrianakos said that his "favorite class of drugs of all time" was the opiates, like heroin. He was introduced to opiates via Oxycontin.

"I fell in love, that was the best; I couldn't get enough of it," he said.

He got into heroin because the pills were too expensive. He said he'd heard you got "more bang for your buck" with heroin.

He said he "hopped around" various colleges, and flunked out, to try to "appear normal."

He said he did a lot of terrible things to his family, including stealing $1,000 from his younger, unemployed sister. At one point he was counterfeiting $100 bills, buying $20 worth of items at a store, and then using the change to buy heroin.

"They weren't very good, which is why I got caught," he said.

Patrianakos said he ended up going through drug court in Will County, which meant that his convictions were erased from his record for being employed and being in school. He had also been through rehab three times before getting clean from heroin.

Oswego detective: parents
can get into trouble

Delphey went over the various punishments meted out to minors who are caught using alcohol or parents who host drinking parties.

For example, the Social Host Law makes it illegal for parents to knowingly permit consumption of alcohol by underage people. It's a Class A misdemeanor with a minimum $500 fine, he said.

A new trend of parties by teens, Delphey said, includes Pharm Parties, which involves kids getting together, dumping a variety of prescription drugs in a bowl and everyone grabbing a handful of drugs to take.

"Where they get the pharmaceuticals from? Their own homes sometimes," he said.

Delphey and Sack both recommended getting rid of leftover prescription medication.

Delphey encouraged parents to be "their own detective." He said parents should get into their kids' social media accounts, and that some kids have two separate accounts - one for their parents to see and one for their friends to see.

Delphey also recommended checking their IPASS accounts to see where their car has been, and to use GPS tracking devices or cell phones with GPS tracking.

"Be a parent, not a friend," he said. "They have plenty of friends to help them make bad decisions."

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