CRYSTAL LAKE – Ken Chiakas still struggles to talk about his daughter – and the day more than a year ago that she was found dead of a drug overdose.
But Tuesday morning, Chiakas along with two recovering addicts, the McHenry County coroner, the director of a rehabilitation center and a Crystal Lake school resource officer spoke with seventh-graders at Lundahl Middle School about soaring heroin use in McHenry County.
The students rotated among the speakers, hearing firsthand accounts of how normal kids ended up as heroin addicts, learning what drugs can do to the human body and being reminded of good Samaritan laws that offer limited immunity for people who call 911 to report an overdose.
"If I can get through to one person, save one life, I feel like I'm doing something," Chiakas said, adding that the first couple of presentations were really hard.
Chiakas's daughter, Stephanie, attended the Crystal Lake middle school before moving on to Crystal Lake South High School. She was a junior when she died March 10, 2013.
Her death was one of 15 heroin-related overdose deaths in McHenry County that year. The McHenry County Sheriff's Office saw its heroin cases jump from 30 in 2012 to 95 the next year.
Many of the people using heroin are in their 20s, McHenry County Coroner Anne Majewski told the students, detailing a few of the cases that have gone through her office and showing photos from the death investigations. Some of the bodies were found with needles still in their arms, she said.
Eighty-four kids, ages 15 to 18, are at the Rosecrance Health Network's adolescent recovery homes, said its clergy community relations coordinator and a former Lundahl Middle School social worker, the Rev. Jim Swarthout. Most of those kids started using around the ages of the seventh-graders at Lundahl.
At least one student asked Chiakas if he could have one of the overdose prevention kits Chiakas showed during his presentation.
"A lot of these kids are starting at 10, 11, 12," Chiakas said. "We need to get to them before they start."