Summit aims to combat heroin, opioid use, overdoses in the suburbs

A memorial set up at the sixth annual Hero-Helps Southwest Coalition Community Summit recognizes lives lost to heroin and opioid addiction at the April 21 event hosted by the Village of Romeoville. (Megann Horstead / For The Bugle)

By Megann Horstead | For The Bugle

The difficult journey of one young man in jail was shared at an April 21 summit on the heroin and opioid epidemic impacting the suburbs.

The man is working his way through the Will County Drug Court and the jail stint where it took two months before he cared whether he would live or die and the fog started to lift and he started to remember who he is, said Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow.

He was there and he witnessed the change seen in the young man over time.

“Sixty days it took with this kid, and I would imagine that’s pretty much the norm,” Glasgow told the crowd in attendance for the sixth annual Hero-Helps Southwest Coalition Community Summit at the Edward Hospital Athletic & Events Center in Romeoville.

The programs in the community aimed at targeting the heroin and opioid epidemic and the growing need for awareness and support were the subject of discussion at the summit.

Glasgow said the sad thing is an arrest must be made in order to get a person into the Drug Court.

“We have to figure another way to get that treatment methodology to everybody,” he said.

“We have quadrupled the number of drug dealers going to the prison the last five years,” Glasgow.

Still, the heroin and opioid epidemic continues to rise.

In 2016, 96 heroin overdoes were reported in Will County.

Will County Executive Larry Walsh, Sr. noted that it’s moving to see the way the community comes together in response to the epidemic and said he is hoping they can find a solution.

“We are losing our most valuable resources over and over again, our children,” he said. “We need to focus whatever we can do and whatever need to do to try and educate them in the dangers of trying this terrible drug.”

In Will County, a number of initiatives aimed at targeting the epidemic have been launched.

Through the efforts of the county’s new director of substance abuse initiative, Dr. Kathleen Burke, law enforcement officials along with sheriffs have acquired the training needed to intervene in crises involving a heroin overdose.

To date, 29 lives have been saved by police officers in Will County administering Narcan.

The County continues to work with the Robert Crown Center for Health Education in offering a heroin prevention curriculum to teach children about the dangers of heroin and other opioids.

Walsh wants people to feel compelled to tell their children, grandchildren and neighborhoods the truth about heroin.

“Over the last six years, it’s been an unbelievable realization that neighborhoods that thought they were not ever going to have an issue, [to find out] heroin knows no boundaries—whether you are rich or poor,” he said. “It can strike any one of us at any time.”

The summit also featured a resource expo providing people the opportunity to consult and gather information on services offered in the community. Representatives for a number of social service organizations were in attendance, including Gateway Alcohol and Drug Treatment Centers, Stepping Stones and Trinity Services.

“It’s such a touching thing that goes to every community, affects communities all over the place regardless of background, and it’s something that we need to come together [for,]” Romeoville Mayor John Noak said. “As we look around we have representatives from a wide range of government, social service organizations and just volunteers, families that care. If we are going to really make a dent on this epidemic thing, this is what’s going to do it by all of us coming together.”

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