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Heroin use spikes in Lake County
By Lee Filas | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 3/15/2008 12:32 AM

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Lake County law enforcement officials say they're seeing a disturbing trend: an increase in heroin traffic.

The evidence county officials point to is the amount of heroin seized and several overdose deaths so far this year.

Keith Frederick, deputy director of the Lake County Metropolitan Enforcement Group -- the countywide drug enforcement agency --said heroin traffic increased possibly because the drug is cheap enough for younger users to purchase.

"It's also becoming more popular because there are different ways of ingesting it," Frederick said. "You don't just have to snort it or use a syringe, so it's easier to use."

It costs $10 to $15 for a quick fix of the drug, he said. One gram is equal to about 15 doses.

So far this year, 20 grams of heroin have been seized in Lake County. Four grams were seized in January and February, but 16 grams were taken in the past two weeks.

That's below the 31 grams seized in Lake County in all of 2007, and roughly the same amount -- 21 grams -- as in 2006, Frederick said.

"It's something we are definitely keeping our eye on," he said. "It seems like it's becoming more popular out here."

Lake County Coroner Richard Keller said there's also been a spike in fatal heroin overdoses.

Five heroin-related deaths have been recorded in 2008, and 12 in the past six months, Keller said. In all, heroin overdoses accounted for 18 deaths in 2007 and 16 in 2006.

"I am really concerned," he said.

Just this week, two Fox Lake residents died from what is believed to be a heroin overdose. Keller said he's awaiting toxicology reports for an official cause.

Across the border in northern Cook County, Palatine Police Cmdr. Alan Stoeckel said cocaine and heroin were found at the scene of two separate deaths in the past three months. They also are waiting for toxicology results before announcing an official cause of death.

Frederick said the deaths may occur because users do not know the purity of heroin being consumed.

Chemicals are used to dilute heroin because the human body cannot handle ingesting the drug in its purest form, he said.

"When you get heroin, you essentially don't know what you are getting," he said. "It's like playing Russian Roulette because you aren't sure on the purity or what's been used to dilute it."

While heroin use may be on the rise in Lake County, state drug officials said it is dropping nationally and remaining constant in Illinois.

Tony Rapac, head of the Illinois MEG Directors and Task Force Commander Association, said dealers in Lake County are trying to move in on new territory after leaving other territories.

"This sounds like it's one or two counties," he said. "And, it's probably one or two groups trying to make inroads in there."