Pubdate: Mon, 29 Mar 2004
Source: Daily Herald (IL)
Contact:  2004 The Daily Herald Company
Author: Stacy St. Clair, Daily Herald Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Heroin)
Bookmark: (Youth)
Bookmark: (Treatment)


Firsthand heartache told Theresa Blasucci the suburban heroin problem was bad.

Her teenage son overdosed on the drug nearly three years ago, plunging the 
family into addiction's murky waters.

They met dozens of other suburban families there. All were treading for 
their lives.

"I saw the problem with my own eyes," the Glendale Heights woman said. "I 
knew how bad it was."

Blasucci, however, did not grasp how far-reaching it was until she read a 
new Roosevelt University study on local heroin use.

The report, which is being released today, suggests the Chicago 
metropolitan region is in the midst of a heroin epidemic. The area - which 
includes Cook and the five collar counties - leads the country in 
heroin-related hospital visits and ranks second in the number of opiate 

In 2002, for example, the area had 12,982 heroin-related hospital visits. 
That was the highest in the nation and a 176 percent increase over 1995.

The area also had 352 heroin-related deaths in 2001, second only to 
Philadelphia with 391. The statistic, however, marked a 57.1 percent jump 
in a five-year period while Philadelphia's only increased by 1.6 percent.

Researchers contend Chicago became a heroin hotbed as the drug - once 
considered an East and West Coast narcotic - made its way to middle 
America. The wealth of local ground, air and rail transportation has made 
it easy to move the drug in and out.

"The area is in the midst of a heroin epidemic," said Kathleen Kane-Willis, 
the study's author and the assistant director of Roosevelt's Chicago-based 
Institute for Metropolitan Affairs. "It's one of the worst in the nation."

The dubious ranking, in large part, stems from increased use among suburban 

Between 1995 and 2002, the collar counties reported a 450 percent jump in 
heroin-related hospital visits among patients between 15 and 19 years old. 
Suburban Cook County also saw a more than 200 percent spike during the same 

The city, in contrast, experienced a 20 percent decline among users younger 
than 20 years old.

"Heroin use is quickly increasing in the area," Kane-Willis said. "And it's 
increasing much more rapidly in the suburbs than in the city."

The study's findings mirror the results of a Daily Herald investigation in 
2002. The newspaper's report identified at least 30 Northwest and West 
suburban teens who died of heroin and club drug overdoses that year.

The Roosevelt study attributes heroin's suburban popularity to an increase 
in purity levels, which has made the drug more attractive to teens.

In the past 20 years, the purity levels - the amount of pure heroin in the 
bag - hovered between 2 percent and 4 percent.

The current average is between 25 percent and 30 percent pure, making the 
drug easy to inhale. The report suggests suburban youth are more receptive 
to snorting heroin because it does not carry the "junkie" stigma attached 
to injecting it with needles.

Kane-Willis believes her study sounds a warning bell about heroin use, 
particularly to parents of suburban teens. The drug can no longer be 
dismissed as a city problem or a junkie's habit, she said.

She would like to see heroin discussed more frequently in anti-drug classes 
and literature. Communities have a vested interest in curbing heroin use, 
she said, because users often turn to illegal activities to fund their 
habits. Needle users also pose a threat to society through the spread of 
HIV and hepatitis.

"We need to increase parental awareness about heroin in the suburbs," 
Kane-Willis said. "Here's a drug that's in the suburbs and it's not just 
alcohol and it's not just pot."

Blasucci, who will participate in a panel discussion on the Roosevelt study 
today in Chicago, hopes the report will spur change in the health insurance 

Like other families grappling with heroin addiction, the financial burden 
has overwhelmed Blasucci. When insurance stopped paying for her son's 
treatment two years ago, she raided his college fund and her life's savings 
to help keep him in a program.

Money will only get tighter as her son, 18-year-old Nick, continues his 
arduous journey through rehab.

If the study catches enough attention, she says, then perhaps attitudes and 
laws about drug rehabilitation will change. In her ideal world, the report 
would help convince Congress to pass legislation requiring insurance 
companies to pay for proper - and lengthy - treatment for all addicts.

"Janet Jackson flashed her breast on television and Congress held hearings 
on it," she said. "What do I have to do to get someone's attention?"

Heroin: Mom hopes study gets people's attention
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