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Will County launches drug abuse prevention initiative

Program addresses growing number of heroin overdose deaths in suburban areas

JOLIET, Ill. — Will County Executive Larry Walsh is leading a public awareness initiative in response to the growing number of fatal heroin overdoses in local communities.

County Executive Walsh has been joined by Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow, Will County Coroner Patrick O’Neil, Will County Sheriff Paul Kaupas and Chief Judge Gerald Kinney in forming an organization called HELPS, which stands for Heroin Education Leads to Preventative Solutions.

HELPS is launching a threefold plan to bring this life-threatening epidemic to the public’s attention with a series of public service announcements, a speakers bureau, and a community forum and rally in April.

Walsh called together the elected officials to form HELPS after attending a rally last spring in Homer Glen. The rally was organized by two fathers, John Roberts and Brian Kirk, both of whom lost their sons to heroin overdoses in recent years. Both men spoke about the personal tragedies they experienced and urged local officials to take action to prevent more overdose deaths. In 2011, there were 28 reported deaths in Will County. In 2012, there have already been eight.

“I feel a personal responsibility as the County Executive to do everything in my power to communicate the dangers associated with using this horrible drug,” Walsh said. “Coroner O’Neil, State’s Attorney Glasgow, Sheriff Kaupas and Judge Kinney have all been battling this epidemic on the streets and in our courtrooms.

"After hearing John Roberts and Brian Kirk discuss their tragic losses, I knew it was important to take additional steps to educate the public, especially our young people, about the potentially fatal consequences of heroin addiction.”

Walsh included representatives from the Will County Health Department, the Will County Regional Office of Education and a Joliet-based drug addiction treatment facility in HELPS. The group is working on a blueprint to provide information to local schools and parent groups across the county.

“The first step in our plan was to produce a series of public service announcements that speak directly to the devastation heroin abuse causes – physically, personally and legally,” Walsh said. “I was joined by the State’s Attorney, the coroner and John Roberts in presenting a consistent warning in each of our announcements: ‘You only choose to use heroin the first time, after that your addiction owns you and you could wind up dead.'”

These public service announcements will be shown on local cable access channels across the county and broadcast on WJOL-AM Radio. The group also is organizing a team of speakers to visit local high schools to address students directly about the dangers of heroin use.

Plans also are under way for a Community Forum and Youth Rally April 13 at Lewis University which will consist of educational workshops and live bands to draw more attention to this public health crisis.

“It will take all of us working together to end this terrible epidemic,” said Walsh. “I am proud of all our HELPS members and the dedication they have to this cause.”

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