Forum puts community focus on ‘epidemic’ of heroin use in Naperville
By David Sharos For The Sun April 3, 2012 8:58PM
Parents grab brochures and information packets as they make their way into the auditorium at Naperville North on Tuesday, April 3, 2012, for a community forum on the growing heroin problem in Naperville and surrounding communities. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media
Naperville School District 203 and District 204 and the Naperville and Aurora police departments will hold another presentation on drugs in the community at 7 p.m. Thursday at Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville.
At the event, speakers will detail the extent of heroin’s presence in our community, describe the signs and symptoms of drug addiction, and provide tips on how to seek help, offer treatment options and explain what parents can do.
Presenters will include police detectives, school social workers or addiction professionals who will share their first-hand experiences of working with students on the issue of drug use.
Updated: May 5, 2012 8:12AM
Naperville’s crusade against drug use among young people hit home Tuesday night, with a special forum at Naperville North High School.
The high school setting was poignant, as heroin use has taken the lives of seven young people in Naperville over the past year.
The popularity of a community forum on heroin use at the 95th Street Public Library in February prompted Naperville School Districts 203 and 204 and the Naperville and Aurora police departments to hold follow-up presentations in larger venues this month, beginning Tuesday night at Naperville North. A similar forum will be held Thursday night at Neuqua Valley High School.
By 7 p.m., an estimated crowd of 350 had gathered in the school’s auditorium to hear speakers discuss the extent of heroin’s presence in Naperville. It is a message that people now want to hear. Sgt. Gregg Bell of the Naperville Police Department pointed to the response to the drug presentation at the library, where people were turned away due to the huge crowds.
Becky Thompson, an outreach coordinator for the Gateway Foundation of Aurora, which offers alcohol and drug treatment programs, said Tuesday’s event was important.
“People have woken up to the problems here in Naperville and surrounding areas and are now trying to get educated,” Thompson said. “We are seeing a lot more heroin use with our clients and the cravings are very challenging and involve medical treatment.”
Thompson said suburbs have become far larger targets for dealers and that the affluence of Naperville means kids may have more access to harmful substances.
“The facts are that drug abuse can happen anywhere, but we are definitely seeing more use in the affluent suburbs with drugs as well as synthetic (drugs),” she said.
At the forum, School District 203 Superintendent Mark Mitrovich said the only way to address the drug issue was for the community to truly understand the scope of the problem.
“We all need to work together in order to address what we know has become an epidemic,” Mitrovich said.
Following Mitrovich, U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Hinsdale) applauded both school districts as well as the community for the willingness to tackle “an uncomfortable topic” and said that knowledge about the problem “would be an effective weapon” against drug use.
Parents brought children of all ages to the event. Delilah Matos of Naperville and her son Alex, 13, each said they were looking to increase their awareness about the problem. Matos said she went to high school years ago with kids that did drugs, including some that overdosed, and that for her, “the problem really hits home.”
“I’m a single mom with just my son, and I want to know what is going on in the area,” she said.
Alex Matos said he does not support drug use. He said that kids that use drugs at his middle school “do it out of peer pressure” or because “it makes them feel capable.”
Laura Bougadis of Naperville brought her 13-year-old son Ethan. She hoped Tuesday’s presentation “would allow her to have an open dialogue” with him.
“I want to know the best way to begin the conversation, and hopefully with Ethan hearing the same thing, we can talk about the problem,” she said. “I have an 11-year-old too, and this will help me continue that discussion with my next child.”