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Despite spike in heroin deaths, DuPage County resources for addicts limited

Published: Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013 6:00 a.m. CST • Updated: Friday, July 25, 2014 4:52 a.m. CST

DuPage County saw 15 heroin and drug-related deaths in the first two-and-a-half weeks of July.

Among the dead is John Dudek, a 15-year-old from Bartlett who overdosed on heroin July 10.

DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin has called the rise in heroin use, particularly in young adults, a “public health crisis.”

But for those already suffering from addiction to heroin or other substances, there are limited resources available at the county level.

Eileen Sullivan, coordinator of the Young Adult Recovery Program at Cadence Health, said that the “epidemic is bigger than what we’re ready for.”

“There needs to be more invested in treatment, absolutely,” she said. “We can’t meet the needs right now with what we have. There are too many young people affected and too many tragedies, and it’s just gotten to a point where we need more resources and we need a team approach.”

Cadence Health, which is based out of Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, offers a 24-hour addiction phone line, as well as detox, residential and outpatient treatment and therapy. Cadence also started Sullivan’s Program to cater to the needs of the youth that comprise the majority of heroin addicts in Chicago’s collar counties.

Dr. Jeffrey Johnson, the medical director of inpatient chemical dependency services at Central DuPage Hospital, said those dying of overdoses are not dying due to lack of immediate care. Rather, more resources focused on sustained, day-to-day recovery are needed.

“The ongoing maintenance, the medications and the ongoing counseling to prevent relapse – that’s where you need more resources,” he said.

DuPage County Health Department Communications Manager David Hass said the county has no specific program for heroin addiction treatment, but that the department’s RxBOX program has collected 14 tons of unused prescription medication since 2009.

The Health Department views its role in the fight against addiction as one of prevention, Hass said, not of treatment.

“We work with hospitals, schools, law enforcement and other community organizations to educate,” he said. “We think that is the best use of our resources, working as a coordinated effort so we know what they’re doing and they know what we’re doing and we’re united towards prevention.”

In response to interview requests, County Board Chairman Dan Cronin released a statement that said he is “very concerned about the epidemic use of heroin especially by our teens.”

Cronin also said he has met with Berlin twice to promote awareness and prevention.

DuPage County’s Psychological Services Department offers limited resources for those in need of addiction treatment. Thomas Sayers, administrator for the Community Services Department, said that those resources are largely devoted to people referred by the criminal justice system.

“It is an epidemic, and most of the time people with heroin addiction need a higher degree of care than we can provide,” he said.

Sayers’ department does offer the Human Services Grant, which helps organizations that “serve the human services needs of DuPage County residents,” according to the county’s website, including addiction treatment.

Lisa Snipes, the development director of Serenity House, a substance abuse treatment center in Addison, said her organization was one of the “very grateful recipient(s) of county funding” through the grant.

“I believe there’s always more that can be done,” she said. “In a perfect world, there would be treatment available immediately for people who need it, but we do the best with what we can with the resources we have available to us.”

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