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Heroin’s prevalence in Lee County worrisome

Use, overdoses still on rise among local youths

DIXON – Contrary to a lot of recent media reports, the number of teens using heroin in America seems to be on the decline. In the Sauk Valley, though, and especially in Lee County, it’s just the opposite.

Of teens surveyed nationwide in 2013 by the Centers for Disease Control, 2.2 percent reported using heroin, compared with 2.9 percent in 2011.

So, how long will it be before the local usage mirrors that downward trend? And what do we do about it until it does?

Authorities and community leaders have been working hard to answer that. In April, local discussion involved putting together a heroin-specific anti-drug program for Lee County schools that would bring in recovering addicts to tell their stories to students. The tentative plan was to take the program into schools this fall. But that plan has been put on the back burner.

Lee County State’s Attorney Anna Sacco-Miller says she now hopes to have a program ready by spring, or possibly for the 2015-2016 school year.

Heroin usage in the area saw a significant spike about 5 or 6 years ago, Dixon Police Sgt. Matt Richards said, and now the drug is filtering its way into the school system. When they are at parties and around friends, high school juniors and seniors and adults in their late teens and early 20s are not as immune to its allure as they once were.

Richards attributes that to price. While a gram of marijuana sells for about $15 to $20, one-tenth of a gram of heroin goes for $10. And with how pure it is now, compared to the ’80s and ’90s, heroin provides more bang for the buck.

“Cannabis is always going to be popular,” Richards said. “But heroin is out there, and it’s very, very prevalent, which is disheartening.”

Ashton Police Chief Darrell Farringer is among the most vocal in supporting a countywide anti-heroin initiative for schools.

“There’s a lot of stuff going on in the county, and people are dying from this,” Farringer said, mentioning one 28-year-old man who overdosed just recently from the drug. “He’d been an addict for a while, but he was a good kid; he had a 7-year-old son.

“I would just like to open people’s eyes to it.”

State legislators are making a push to open eyes, too.

Gov. Pat Quinn this month signed legislation to expand a task force, created in 2013, to study heroin use in Illinois. The bill extends the age range to be studied by the Young Adult Heroin Use Task Force to include students in grades six through 12.

“I think we really need to push to get that information out to the kids, because at that age, they don’t think about tomorrow,” Richards said. “It’s all about today. Right now.”

Richards has been assigned to drug cases for 13 of his 16 years with the Dixon Police Department.

“Kids don’t realize what can happen,” he said. “Even after one usage, they can get addicted. Then, all they’re concerned about is being high, about not being sick. ... You don’t work; you lose your family. Kids just don’t realize.”

“We know we have a problem,” Farringer said. “But we’ve all got to be part of the solution.”

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