Hooked on Heroin—Naperville responds to a record number of heroin overdose deaths in DuPage County

March 2014 View more



Last year was a record-setting year for the number of heroin overdose deaths in DuPage County. According to DuPage County Coroner Rich Jorgensen, there were 46 heroin overdose deaths in DuPage County in 2013. “That’s the highest number we’ve ever had,” said Jorgensen in a statement. The DuPage County Coroner’s office began tracking drug overdose deaths by individual drugs in 2007. At that time, heroin overdose deaths averaged nearly 50 percent lower per year. Jorgensen says there is not one particular geographic location that is harder hit than others. The problem seems to be evenly distributed throughout the county.

heroininfographicExperts attribute the recent spike to several factors. The highly addictive and deadly drug is relatively inexpensive compared to other drugs, it’s easy to get, and it can be easily ingested.

The numbers are alarming and have many community organizations continuing to look at new ways to break the grip of heroin on local residents— especially among young residents.

Part of the Solution

There is hope. Progress is being made at the grass roots level to help reduce the number of overdose deaths. “The heroin problem is a problem of supply and demand,” said Joan Drummond Olson, interim executive director and communications director of the Robert Crown Centers for Health Education.

“Law enforcement is working on the supply side, early education is working on the demand side.” The goal of the education programs offered by The Robert Crown Center for Health Education (RCC) is to stop kids from using drugs before they get started. “Often kids become involved in heroin because they don’t know the addictive power of the drug,” said Drummond Olson. “We’re working to have teens avoid taking risks that will endanger their life.” The prevention programs at RCC incorporate three main areas: Teen programs, parent portals, and all-school staff training sessions.

Pilot Program


RCC recently launched an interactive pilot education program with several Naperville schools including Scullen Middle School, Crone Middle School, and Neuqua Valley. “Schools can’t do it all,” said Drummond Olson. “We work with schools to help educate students on the health risks of using drugs. We work with schools multiple times throughout the year, using multiple education methods.”

The RCC Heroin Prevention Program was initiated during the 2012-2013 school year. It equips teens with the knowledge they need to stay away from dangerous drugs by using authentic messengers – real users who talk directly with teens about their personal struggles and experiences of using heroin during school assemblies. The students then follow the struggles and downward spiral of the addicts using a social media program similar to Facebook.

In the first year of the pilot program, students seem to be getting the message. “There is a significant improvement in knowledge, attitudes, and behavior of kids following the programs. 93 percent of kids feel confident that they gained new knowledge of heroin’s deadly affects,” said Drummond Olson. Many students say the program is a wake-up call to heroin’s deadly and addictive nature.

Parents Matter

iStock_000007056536Small_CCLast fall, the Naperville City Council approved funding to form ParentsMatter Too—a heroin-fighting program of KidsMatter—to help parents address the problem. “Heroin is not any one entity problem. It’s a community issue. We can all make a difference if we do something about it,” said Diane Overgard, ParentsMatter Too project coordinator. “This is too important not to do something,” added Overgard.

The ParentsMatter Too project targets parents, faith-based organizations, and businesses using a strong online presence. Organizers talked with parents of kids who overdosed on heroin to learn how to best tackle the problem. They learned that parents did three things when they first discovered their child was using heroin. “The first thing they did is go online to research heroin. Then they talked to trusted friends to find out more information, and they attended special speaking events,” said Overgard. Based on this information, organizers created an online one-stop resource for parents. The website, www.parentsmattertoo.org, features an Ask The Expert section where parents submit questions and get answers from Naperville psychologists, addiction specialists, and school professionals about drug addition, alcohol abuse, school bullying and other important issues.

Parent Conversation Circles

Parent Conversation Circles were created to provide a safe and guided discussion and to support parents who want to connect with other parents. Each Circle consists of a group of 8-12 parents who meet around town in coffee shops, faith-based communities, schools and businesses. “Part of the problem (for parents) is that parents did not have anywhere to go to talk about heroin addiction,” said Overgard. Each Circle meets once per week as part of a three-week curriculum focusing on positive parenting issues. A list of meeting times and conversation topics is available at www.parentsmattertoo.org.

“We’ve had an incredible response from the community since our October launch,” said Overgard.

Parental Power

Experts agree parental power is the best prevention. Talk early and talk often. Study after study show that parents remain the primary influencer of their children. According to The Partnership at Drugfree.org, kids who learn about the risks of drugs and alcohol from their parents are up to 50 percent less likely to use than those who do not.


Robert Crown Center for Health Education
The Robert Crown Center for Health Education (RCC), based in Hinsdale, has been a leader and innovator for health education for more than 50 years. Substance abuse prevention programs available include:
• Science Behind Drugs program
• 3-Point Advantage program
• Heroin Prevention program
• Additional heroin research and resources available at www.robertcrown.org


Parents Matter Too Resources
• Ask the experts
• Parent conversation circles
• Speaking events
• Additional resources available at www.parentsmattertoo.org