Battle against heroin an ongoing struggle

FILE - In a Sunday, March 5, 2006, file photo, actor Philip Seymour Hoffman poses with the Oscar he won for best actor for his work in
FILE - In a Sunday, March 5, 2006, file photo, actor Philip Seymour Hoffman poses with the Oscar he won for best actor for his work in "Capote" at the 78th Academy Awards, in Los Angeles. Police say Hoffman has been found dead in his apartment. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian, File)

I can’t help but notice — nor can you, I’m sure — that heroin is all over the national news.

Even before Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman overdosed on the drug earlier this month and turned what experts now label a “health crisis” into Entertainment Tonight sound bites, CNN had been running a series of stories on how deadly this drug has become across our country.

It’s worth noting, as I mentioned to my editor, there’s nothing in these reports, despite the breaking news overtones, we’ve not been writing about for the last couple of years.

The good news is we are among the communities leading the discussion on how to fight back. It is unfortunate in that we got out ahead of the story because of the dramatic rise in heroin overdoses here in the Fox Valley, especially DuPage County. Yet we are fortunate because local schools, hospitals and treatment centers, not to mention judicial and law enforcement, are ahead of the curve. And working even more passionately behind the local scenes are a growing number of parents who know all too well the drug’s ugly realities as they fight to get their kids sober or look for ways their deaths will not be in vain.

Despite past efforts, these advocates and officials are continually looking for ideas from all of us on how to battle this crisis. That’s why DuPage County, which averaged about a heroin death a week in 2013, held an open house last month to discuss ways to combat the problem, with plans for another forum later this month.

And next Tuesday, Chris Herren, a former NBA player with the Boston Celtics, will talk about his dramatic struggles with heroin at a free community presentation at 7 p.m. in the Naperville North High School fieldhouse.

Herren, the author of “Basketball Junkie” and the subject of the Emmy-nominated ESPN film “Unguarded,” will also talk to students the following day at a school assembly about his once hopeless addiction and inspiring recovery.

“We hope this event will be an important catalyst for our community to better understand addiction and the tremendous risks of drug use,” said Principal Kevin Pobst.

And that risk is only rising.

Just a few days ago, the Chicago-based Rosecrance Treatment Center put out a warning from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration about fentanyl, a form of opioid being mixed with heroin.

“People who do heroin usually don’t have a clue what they are getting,” said Rosecrance Chief Medical Officer Thomas Wright. “Heroin laced with fentanyl can be deadly.”

Heroin, unfortunately, is lethal enough without it.

Only last week I talked with yet another area mother about her son’s heroin-related death in October. Our conversation covered many sensitive topics, including her frustration that her child’s drug dealer would not be held accountable for his death … a topic being debated in this growing national story.

We also touched upon the grassroots movements of other parents who are committed to helping families struggling with addiction. But grief’s exhaustion was evident in her voice. And she admitted her immediate goal was to sell her Naperville house as quickly as she can to move away from this area that she believes has morphed into a dangerous environment.

Who can blame her for wanting to flee such pain? But there is no escaping this problem, as these national headlines show.

From the Atlantic Journal-Constitution, Jan. 15: Heroin, pill abuse startle quiet Vermont.

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Feb. 7: Opiate deaths surpass traffic deaths in Waukesha County.

From the Los Angeles Daily News, Jan, 15: Spike in heroin use subject of San Fernando Valley Symposium.

“Heroin is now the leading cause of opiate deaths,” noted Karen Hanneman of Naperville, whose 21-year-old son Justin died of an overdose a few years ago.

Hanneman describes Hoffman’s death as “truly tragic” because the loss of this remarkably gifted and successful man “magnifies the power opiates have over one’s life … to take one’s life.”

As she pointed out, “from sea to shining sea” we have a real fight on our hands.

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