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Groups unite in fight on heroin

Published: Thursday, Nov. 28, 2013 10:18 p.m. CDT

Curbing the county’s persistent heroin problem, officials say, requires a united front. Law enforcement, the court system and treatment providers can’t go it alone.

With that in mind, a countywide Heroin Education/Enforcement Action Taskforce was created. The group is made up of officials from agencies such as the state’s attorney’s office, the coroner’s office, local police and addiction treatment providers.

“The only way the community heals from this is if law enforcement, treatment and the courts are all on the same page,” said Chris Gleason, director of Rosecrance McHenry County.

Although the Taskforce started in April, the increase in young suburban heroin users is not a new problem.

According to the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy at Roosevelt University, from 1998 to 2007 hospital discharges for heroin use among Chicagoans dropped 67 percent. During the same time period, that figure increased by more than 200 percent in the collar counties.

“This didn’t just sneak up on us overnight; this has been going on for years,” McHenry County Undersheriff Andrew Zinke said. “It’s just now getting the media attention it deserves.”

For its part, law enforcement is trying to stop the flow of heroin into the county by targeting drug dealers, Zinke said.

Just last week, authorities charged Round Lake teenager Justin D. Hurt with drug-induced homicide for allegedly providing the heroin that killed 19-year-old Stephanie Habhab of Johnsburg.

The heroin trade in the Midwest, as it is in much of the county, is controlled by the Mexican drug cartel. Out here, the sheriff’s office primarily is dealing with low-level drug dealers, Zinke said. Most users, he said, travel to Chicago or Rockford to buy drugs for themselves and might pick up a small amount to sell.

According to data provided by the sheriff’s office, from April to October deputies arrested 31 people on heroin-related charges and seized 65 grams and about $3,500 in currency.

Once in the court system, an alternative to jail for seriously drug-addicted offenders is a doable but not an easy path.

McHenry County’s 22nd Judicial Circuit Adult Drug Court is a specialty court – its goal is to reduce recidivism and rehabilitate addicts.

The drug court has 62 participants, 51 of which are heroin addicts.

Participants are regularly and randomly drug tested and required to appear frequently in court for the judge to review their progress.

Scott Block, director of special projects for the 22nd Circuit, describes it as “intensive treatment, intensive probation, intensive oversight.”

“Without any one of these things, this program won’t work,” Block said.

Earlier this month, the Drug Court program celebrated its second set of five graduates. One of the requirements to graduate from the program is a full year of sobriety.

Much like HEAT, the drug court doesn’t work without participation from its community partners, Block said, and others agreed.

“The heroin problem is a community problem, so it’s got to be a community solution,” Gleason said.

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