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Aurora forum examines fight to stop heroin use

Dec 19, 2014
In The News

Heroin abuse, and the deaths that have happened in Kane County because of it, have made for major headlines in the Fox Valley over the past few years.

On Wednesday, a group of local leaders got together to talk about how the fight against heroin is going, and what can be done to finally win the battle against the addictive drug.

The group which met at the Aurora Public Library’s Eola Road branch included U.S. Rep. Bill Foster (D-Naperville),  Kane County Coroner Rob Russell, Kane County Health Department Executive Director Barbara Jeffers and two very special guests — fathers whose sons died from heroin overdoses.

As a former Fermilab physicist, Foster said he gravitates to the analysis of statistics, but it is the stories of heroin-related deaths that have put the issue front and center with him.

“I am a scientist so when I see the statistics are increasing and hear of the situations from constituents we know it is an area that needs action,” Foster said.

One important change that is happening in the fight against heroin is an understanding of the nature of the addiction itself, he said.

Foster said he’s already begun to sense through his work that people are starting to believe that drug addiction is a “medical condition” and not a “moral failure.”

Another difference maker involves naxolone, a drug which can work to reverse heroin and some other drug overdoses, if administered in time. Because of that, a push has been made to make the drug available to police officers and others who respond to emergency calls of a drug overdose.

To help in that effort, Jeffers launched a “train the trainer” program in July to equip law enforcement officials in Kane County with naxolone.

She said at least one life has been saved in the county thanks to the drug.

“Collectively more than 350 officers have been trained,” Jeffers said.

Foster said, though, that it is important to build on that effort to save more lives. He said there already has been a dramatic effect by getting the drug in the hands of police officers, but if family members aware of a loved one’s addiction had access to the drug, it could further help save lives.

He said a major concern is that some young people are beginning to abuse drugs early, and at home.

“It’s no secret one of the main pathways to heroin addiction is through prescription drugs,” he said.

Foster said he’s heard of start-up companies developing electronic pill dispensers with a connection to a smart phone that would require a patient speak with a nurse practitioner for the pill to be released.

“It could be tremendous for at-risk patients and potentially be at low-cost,” he said.

The fight against heroin is an ongoing battle, according to Russell.

Russell said heroin-related deaths in Kane County dropped from 27 in 2012 to 22 in 2013, but so far this year the incidents of drug-related deaths are on pace to be around the same as last year.

He said the coroner’s office is now conducting autopsies on suspected drug deaths to establish the cause of death, assist law enforcement and provide some closure to families.

Information about the problem, and getting it out to the public, is key, according to forum participants.

Tim Ryan, of Naperville, a self-proclaimed recovering drug addict, said that his 21-year old son died four months ago from a heroin overdose. The public needs to know the extent of the heroin problem, he said.

“The problem is we don’t have (all) the data,” he said.