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Heroin forum helps teach residents about ‘the drug of choice’

COAL CITY – Curiosity and concern compelled parents Julie and Tom Taylor to attend the heroin forum held at the Coal City High School Auditorium on Wednesday night.

“We have two kids – one is in the 20s and the other is 14,” said Julie Taylor before the event began. “We’ve heard a lot of stuff about people getting in trouble with it. We just want to know what to look for so we can keep our eyes open.”

Parents, health professionals, state representatives and community members from across the county came to Wednesday’s forum, which addressed the heroin abuse, side effects, treatment and the penalties for possession and distribution of it.

A panel of experts and speakers also informed attendees about spotting signs of heroin use and addiction and what to do if they suspect someone is using.

“I drove a long way to be here because it’s really important – really important – to get the word out,” said speaker John Roberts, who co-founded the Heroin Epidemic Relief Organization after losing his 19-year-old son, Billy, to a heroin overdose in 2009. “It’s out there and I’ve been a personal witness to it.”

Roberts, a retired Captain in the Chicago Police Department, spoke frankly about the unexpected loss of his son and how heroin trafficking has sprawled from Chicago to quiet suburbs and rural communities across Illinois.

Roberts said heroin has become “the drug of choice” for much of the Chicago area.

“It’s creeping into this community and it’s going to take your kids from you,” said Roberts during his talk. “We need to push back.”

The second speaker of the night, Pat Spangler – a senior addictions counselor at Rosecrance, Harrison Campus, in Rockford – provided statistics about the physical and mental effects of addiction and resources on where to get help.

He reminded the audience that heroin addiction is a disease and not a personal choice, so treatment must involve more than just quitting the drug.

“We need to recognize what’s going on in their life that led to the addiction,” Spangler said.

He said they often give their patients pharmaceutical drugs that can block receptors in the body to prevent a heroin high, but stressed that quitting the drug isn’t enough and patients must have intensive counseling as well.

“It’s not just as easy as quitting the drug,” Spangler said. “That’s pulling a piece out, but now, we need to replace it.”

After the speakers, the invited panel of experts were given time to answer some questions submitted by the audience.

Aside from Roberts and Spangler, the panel included Coal City police Chief Tom Best; Kristie Polk of Crossroads Counseling; Christina Hintze-Symoniak, deputy chief coroner for the Grundy County Coroner’s Office; Helland; Dr. Ronald Wuest from the Institute for Professional Development; Elizabeth Thrun and Kevin Bernard of Morris Hospital & Healthcare Centers; and Brian Hazard of Stepping Stones Treatment & Recovery Center.

Best spoke to the heroin problem he sees in Coal City – which he said has grown over the years – and reminded citizens to reach out to the police if they are aware of heroin abuse.

The panel instructed parents and concerned community members to call their local hospital or a drug treatment facility if they have questions or concerns.”

“Please if you have any questions or concerns, just pick up the phone and give us a call,” Spangler said. “No question is a bad question.”

At the end of the night, parents could walk through a mock-up of a teen’s bedroom called “In Plain Sight.” The room was set up to show parents what to look for in their children’s bedrooms for hints of drug use and how they can be hiding paraphernalia in “plain view.”

The room illustrated how remotes, hair bands, feminine products and dozens of other every day item can be used for risky behaviors.

“You would never think to check most of this stuff,” attendee Debbie Esler said. “It’s scary if you think about it.”

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