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Downers Grove

Heroin arrests shed light on 'epidemic' in Downers Grove

Outreach forum planned at Good Sam Nov. 18

DOWNERS GROVE – The arrest of three Downers Grove residents Thursday for alleged heroin possession is just the latest example of the drug's resurgence in the western suburbs, police say.

William J. Wehrman, 28, 5609 Woodward Ave., Victoria M. Howland, 22, 6380 Hathaway Lane, and Calli L. West, 22, 531 Valleyview Drive, were all charged with heroin possession after police allegedly found the drug in their room at the Red Roof Inn, 1113 Butterfield Road.

Police were led to the room after a traffic stop in the parking lot allegedly yielded heroin paraphernalia, Downers Grove Police Lt. Mike Willison said.

Arrests for heroin in Downers Grove are down this year, compared to 2012, but Downers Grove Police Chief Bob Porter cautioned that a single incident can quickly spike numbers from year to year, and that the arrest numbers don't mean the heroin problem is going away this year.

"Every community, regardless of its size, is seeing issues relative to heroin," Porter said. "You're seeing many town hall meetings in various communities. We hosted one.

"Any community that thinks they're immune to the impacts of heroin, they need to take another look."

Deaths, especially, have highlighted the issue.

In all of DuPage County, there have been 41 suspected heroin deaths as of Thursday, according to the coroner's office. That already surpasses the total number for all of 2012, when there were 38.

In Downers Grove, there have been four suspected overdose deaths from heroin so far this year. Last year, there were six.

Porter said users are skewing younger. And an increased purity in the drug has contributed to the overdoses, he said.

"Heroin, typically, over the years … people would shoot it up with needles," he said. "And now you're seeing people snort it, smoke it. It's a lot more pure than it was back then."

In addition to enforcement efforts, police and other agencies have been offering more community outreach and education.

On Oct. 10, former NBA player Chris Herren spoke to the community at North High School about his struggle with drug addiction, offering a cautionary tale and morale support for those in the crowd already dealing with the issue.

Another outreach opportunity is scheduled for 7 p.m. Nov. 18, when State Reps. Patti Bellock and Sandy Pihos will host a DuPage County Heroin Forum at Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove.

Porter encouraged parents who suspect their children might be trying drugs, or are at risk to, to contact the police department for referrals for help.

"This drug us highly addictive, and can be fatal and people need to understand that," he said. "This is not a drug you can experiment with. You can become hooked and it can end with you, ultimately, dying."

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.”

Reporter Nathan Lurz contributed to this story.

EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous version of this story included incorrect numbers for the amount of heroin overdose deaths in 2012 and thus far this year.


If you go

WHAT: DuPage County Heroin Forum, sponsored by State Reps. Patti Bellock and Sandy Pihos

WHERE: Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital, Oak Rooms, 3815 S. Highland Ave.

WHEN: 7 p.m. Nov. 18

HOW: For questions or more information, contact Bellock’s office at 630-852-8633 or Rep. Pihos’ office at 630-858-8855.

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