Heroin Epidemic Declared Medical Emergency

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WINNEBAGO COUNTY (WIFR) – In the past seven years, the Winnebago County Coroner’s office says heroin deaths have quadrupled. It’s a similar situation across the state, which prompted a state commission to declare a state-wide medical emergency.

26-year-old Ashley Keene knows the dangers of heroin. She started using at just 16 years old. In the 8 years she used, she overdosed six times. Keene’s been clean now for two years, but says there were times when she thought she would never kick the habit.

“I actually didn’t think I would get clean actually. I was in it pretty bad,” Keene said.
There have been so many heroin related deaths in Illinois, the Illinois State Crime Comission declared the epidemic a medical emergency, which means people are dying from heroin overdoses on a regular basis, a reality Keene knows all too well.

“I’ve lost countless friends. I’ve lost three recently in the last year or so,” Keene continued.

According to the coroner’s office, the number of heroin deaths in Winnebago County has spiked from nine in 2005 to 41 last year. Just this year 25 people have died from drugs in Winnebago County.

“We’re seeing one sometimes two a week. The police and fire department are seeing more and more of the same people overdosing on heroin and it’s just out of control,” said Winnebago Coroner, Sue Fidducia.

Experts say many heroin deaths happen after a person leaves rehab.

“If they were to go back out using again, they would often go back to their prior dose or prior amount of substance. Their body’s tolerance has decreased and this runs the risk of overdose,” said Fidducia.

It took Keene dozens of stints in rehab to stay clean, but now that she is, she says she’s a completely different person.
“Even the police officers here have noticed that I’ve changed and still talk to my family about it so I’m glad I don’t have that same reputation that I did a few years back,” Keene said.

Coroner Sue Fidducia says education is really the key in getting the numbers of heroin deaths down. She says if you can show people what heroin is doing to others, it will save lives.

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