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Heroin Use Task Force Expanding Scope

PHOTO: Governor Pat Quinn recently signed legislation to expand the scope of the Young Adults Heroin Use Task Force, a year after the task force was first charged with finding solutions to the heroin epidemic in Illinois. Photo credit: Psychonaut/Wikipedia Commons.
PHOTO: Governor Pat Quinn recently signed legislation to expand the scope of the Young Adults Heroin Use Task Force, a year after the task force was first charged with finding solutions to the heroin epidemic in Illinois. Photo credit: Psychonaut/Wikipedia Commons.
August 18, 2014

JOLIET, Ill. - State leaders are digging deeper for solutions as they try to fight heroin abuse among Illinois youth.

The Young Adults Heroin Use Task Force has been hearing testimony and gathering information on heroin use among high school students over the past year.

Recently-signed legislation sponsored by state Representative Natalie Manley of Joliet has expanded the focus of the task force to include children starting in sixth grade. She says heroin abuse is widespread and needs to be addressed at every level.

"Everybody looks to Cook County as the epicenter of problems. Well, it's everywhere," says Manley. "The first thing to do is realize the problem exists, and figure out how best to get the information to kids. It may take parents, clubs and schools, but we've got to give them information."

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there was a 45 percent increase in heroin-related deaths nationally from 2006 to 2010. Manley says bringing education to the community is a critical component of combating the heroin problem. She points to successful efforts in Will County, where heroin-related deaths dropped from a high of 53 in 2012 to 38 in 2013.

Manley says the face of the typical heroin user is not the same as it was decades ago, and since it's readily available and relatively inexpensive, people from all walks of life are choosing heroin as their drug of choice. She notes it's important to educate kids at a young age about the dangers of heroin and drug abuse, because once kids begin using heroin it becomes very difficult to get them to stop.

"Oftentimes, the first use of this drug is lethal," says Manley. "If you live through the first use, chances are you're going to be instantly addicted. Heroin has a way of changing the brain's function."

The task force charged with investigating programs that can be used in schools to address the heroin problem will report its findings to lawmakers and Governor Pat Quinn.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL