After three Lake Zurich High School alumni died of heroin overdoses in the past 14 months, Lake Zurich mom Michelle Hines organized a forum about drug use in the community.
Hines, who facilitates Willow Creek Community Church's Christian 12-Step Program, said the stories are so heartbreaking that she feels an urgent need to educate people about the dangerous drug that's become trendy in the suburbs.
"When I found out about all the kids dying, I thought, 'Enough already.' Someone's got to do something. We've got to fight back," Hines said. "Heroin is in our town and kids are dying. If parents don't know it's here, then they can't educate their kids. We're doing the best we can to let them know."
In December 2008, former Lake Zurich student Kelly Gawron, 19, was found dead in her bed after overdosing on heroin.
Then in June 2009, a 22-year-old Lake Zurich alumnus died in the hospital, three days after overdosing, Hines said.
A month later, a 21-year-old former student died in a halfway house, struggling to recover from his heroin addiction, said his family, who asked not to be identified.
In an effort to prevent more deaths, the Feb. 9 forum at Lake Zurich High School aims to educate people about the drug activity going on in the community and teach them ways to help someone who is using drugs.
The forum will feature several speakers, provide handouts, and allow time for questions and answers.
A big part of the problem is the prevalent "not my kid" attitude, Hines said.
"There have been so many parents who believe this would not happen to their kids. Their kids are in sports. Their kids are in every activity, and there's no sign of foul play," she said. "The signs aren't the same anymore."
Needle marks on the arms used to be an indication of heroin use. But now, heroin's high purity means it can be smoked or snorted. A single dose can kill, or start a life-destroying addiction.
Last year, more than 100 suburban residents died from a heroin overdose, local coroners report.
Lake Zurich Police Chief Patrick Finlon says his community is not dealing with anything out of the ordinary, but he believes it's important for parents to attend this forum.
"Heroin can be easily obtained ... and anything that's more accessible is likely to be abused," Finlon said.
Lake Zurich High School Principal Kim Kolze agrees the situation in Lake Zurich is no different from that in any other suburb, but knowing heroin is in the community, she's taking steps to educate teachers and students about the drug.
During a recent institute day, Lake Zurich teachers met with a Lake County Metropolitan Enforcement Group police officer to learn about signs they can watch for. Kolze also met with parents to discuss ways the school can help.
In the 2008 Illinois Youth Survey, which surveys high school teens across the state about alcohol and drugs, only 1 percent of Lake Zurich seniors reported trying heroin. But 10 percent reported using marijuana or LSD, and 9 percent used a prescription drug like OxyContin or Ritalin without a doctor's prescription - which experts say are drugs that often lead to heroin.
Kolze said the school is trying to do what it can, but there is a delicate balance between being proactive and overbearing.
"Confidentially and privacy are huge issues," Kolze said. "They say we shouldn't be taking the job of the parent. Sometimes they want us to be aggressive, and sometimes they don't want us to be."
Random drug testing was considered, but Kolze says it's expensive. In a time when they're fighting to keep teachers from being cut and class sizes from swelling, there's no free money to buy tests or hire a student assistance coordinator to conduct the tests.
"We're trying to keep communication open and do what we can to educate our community," Kolze said. "We don't want to alarm people; we just want them to be aware."
Forums focus on suburban heroin use
The public is invited to attend two, free upcoming forums about drug use in the suburbs.
"The Drug Culture is Changing," at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 9, at Lake Zurich High School auditorium, 300 Church Street.
The Lake Zurich Police Department and concerned parents will host a forum that provides information on a variety of topics related to substance abuse, including the current drug situation in the community, signs to watch for, and how to talk to teens about drugs. Admission is free, but RSVP to Cmdr. Quinones at (847) 719-1695, ext. 129. Teens are welcome to attend.
"The New Face of Heroin Addiction - Illinois Teens," at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 31, at Serenity House, 891 S. Route 53, Addison.
Serenity House, in partnership with the Illinois Alcohol and Drug Dependency Association and York and Addison Trail high schools, will host a forum featuring a panel made up of teens, parents, elected officials and medical professionals. It will be moderated by Serenity House President/CEO David Tews. Admission is free. Call (630) 620-6616, ext. 129, or go to serenityhouse.com for more information.