VILLA PARK – Calling the heroin situation in the area “extreme,” Willowbrook High School Principal Dan Krause said the community needs to ban together to fight the drug epidemic.
“This has a direct impact on our sons and daughters,” Krause said during a DuPage High School District 88 Heroin Awareness forum Tuesday evening at Willowbrook High School. “If we’re going to change the direction of lives, we have to do this together.”
The presentation, “Heroin Awareness: Impact of Heroin in DuPage County,” featured a panel of six speakers and drew roughly four dozen individuals, including district administrators, staff, parents and students. Krause, serving as emcee for the event, said Willowbrook is not immune to drug abuse.
“We don’t have heroin addicts in the bathrooms that we visually see, but we do know that we have students experimenting,” Krause said. “That’s the society that our students are living in today.”
District 88 has taken a proactive approach to educating the community about the dangers of heroin use and about the dangers of remaining silent when someone you know is using, Krause said.
“We need to break the stereotype in society of snitching,” he said. “If you’re a real friend, you go get help for them.”
The Good Samaritan Law, which went into effect in June 2012, is intended to save the lives of opiate overdose victims. The act allows someone holding less than three grams of heroin to call the police without fear of being arrested, Villa Park Police Deputy Chief Bob Budig said.
“If you have a friend that is taking heroin, you can call the police,” Budig said. “You can make a difference in saving someone’s life.”
Heroin’s rise in DuPage
Heroin has become a central focus for law enforcement agencies throughout DuPage County.
“We have seen a dramatic increase in the supply of heroin in this county,” said Mark Piccoli, director of the DuPage Metropolitan Enforcement Group (DuMeg)
In 2009, only 6 percent of drug purchases in the county were heroin-related. Last year, more than a quarter of all drug purchases involved heroin, Piccoli said.
Heroin, which is synthesized from the poppy plant, is extremely addictive and dangerous, DuPage County Coroner Dr. Richard Jorgensen said.
“It is extremely destructive to your body and mind,” Jorgensen said. “It changes the structure of your life and it is in every town in DuPage County.”
Heroin overdose deaths in the county have risen steadily, from 23 in 2007 to 46 last year, Jorgensen said.
There is no longer that stereotypical “junkie” user, panelists said. The addiction to opiate-based prescription drugs and the availability of refined, powder versions of heroin are making it easier for anyone to fall prey to addiction.
“The demographics have changed,” Piccoli said.
Louie Miceli had it all, said his cousin, Angelica Selvaggio, a co-founder of the LTM Heroin Awareness & Support Foundation.
Remembered as a charismatic, fun-loving football player at Driscoll Catholic High School in Addison, Miceli’s personal story was cut short in August 2012 when he overdosed on heroin.
Miceli was introduced to pain pills following a sports injury, and from there, his addiction “spiraled,” said his mother, Felicia Miceli.
The LTM foundation was founded to remember her son, but also to provide awareness and education to teach families how heroin enters lives.
“It’s my hope that no one has to live this nightmare,” Felicia said. “There are a lot of moms that are fighting my fight, and education is going to really help play a part.”
Nick Gore said he didn’t wake up one day and chose to be a heroin addict.
Gore came from a middle class family and pursued hockey in college, with big dreams of making the National Hockey League. Prescription drugs entered his life in similar fashion – while recovering from a kidney stone operation.
“I realized that they didn’t just take away my physical pain, they made me feel good,” Gore, 29, told the audience.
After his first brush with heroin, Gore was “hooked” and what followed was a series of life-altering choices, including stints in prison for burglary and being robbed at gunpoint.
“I lost my dignity, my self-respect and trust,” said Gore, who is more than two years clean, but also knows he will carry the label of “heroin addict” with him for the rest of his life.”
His message to parents looking to educate their children on the dangers of heroin: Don’t comfort them.
“You hurt them with the truth,” he said. “There’s got to be a sense of urgency to this.”