Our View: As Illinois Heroin Crisis Spreads, Illinois Senate Eliminates Drug Prevention

Our View: “Couldn’t this tragedy have been prevented?”

After the tragic drug-related death of every child those words are uttered.

There is a visceral faith in the power of prevention. Nevertheless, Illinois drug prevention funding falls as the first victim to Illinois budget cuts. And the Illinois Senate took the first step this week to follow Governor Pat Quinn’s lead to eliminate Illinois drug prevention.

State Senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago) proposed a budget for next year to eliminate drug prevention services for more than 34,593 Illinois youth.

“This budget will break the back of Illinois’ drug prevention system – which has proven outcomes in reducing youth drug abuse – at the same time a heroin and synthetic drug epidemic is sweeping Illinois,” said Sara Moscato Howe, CEO of the Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Association.

Steans’ budget eliminates $2.6 million or 100% from the Illinois Department of Human Services Division of Family and Community Services for drug prevention, a cut that will cause 34,593 youth from receiving drug prevention services.

In fiscal year 2008 Illinois spent $7.5 million in state money on youth prevention.

“The days of heroin use being confined to the wrong people in the wrong towns are gone. It is a plague of all communities, all incomes and all children,” said Wayne Hunter, Lake County sheriff chief of administration, Daily Herald, January 31, 2012.

In Lake County, heroin deaths increased 130% from 2000 to 2009. In McHenry, in three years heroin deaths zoomed 150% higher. In Will County, in two years, deaths doubled.

And an escalation of heroin deaths has also struck Winnebago County.

“In the last several years I have seen an increase in the heroin use in the Rockford area.  I don’t think it is just the Rockford area I think it is across the whole country,” says Lt. Marc Welsh, Rockford Police Department.

For the first three months of 2012, 23 drug-related deaths have been caused either by heroin or cocaine or a combination of the two, according to the Winnebago County Coroner.

“If you follow through with the statistics we’ve had anywhere from the 50s to the 60s to the 70s as far as deaths for the entire year.  If you follow this through we are going to have well over 100 this year. And this is only January, February and March,” says Sue Fidducia, coroner.

“He was a good kid.  You couldn’t ask for a nicer kid. But the drugs tore him to pieces, made him a monster,” says Dave Reine of Rockford, last week remembering his son, Daniel, who became addicted in his early 20’s died of an overdose at 32.

In addition to heroin, synthetic drug use, like “K2”, “Spice” and “Bath Salts”, is an escalating problem among youth, said Howe.

“Illinois had one of the highest call rates to the Poison Control Centers for these synthetic drugs in 2010 and 2011,” said Howe.

“Year after year after year Illinois has tried to completely eliminate successful drug prevention programs to save a little money up front, but  such a move just ignites youth addictions, while a heroin and synthetic drug epidemic is sweeping the Chicago suburbs and down state Illinois,” said Howe.

Currently, untreated addiction costs the State of Illinois more than $3 billion a year. Meanwhile, drug prevention saves up to $35 for each dollar spent

“With heroin use by Illinois teens spreading like wild fire in the suburbs and downstate, nothing could be more foolish than cutting youth drug prevention in the middle of a crisis.” said Howe. “And Illinois will lose $2.6 million from federal matching money, even more foolish.”

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