Heroin: A look at the solution

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Updated: May 19, 2016

ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) -- It's an epidemic plaguing our country and right here in the Stateline. Dixon Police Chief, Danny Langloss, says as bad as the heroin problem is, it's just the beginning.

"It's out of control It's a growing problem. We're only seeing the beginning of it," says Langloss, "What people have to understand with heroin, this opiate addiction, is that 4 out of 5 people started on opiate pain medication."

A new program called the Safe Passage Initiative started in Dixon back in September and expanded to Whiteside County in March. So far the Safe Passage Program has helped 66 people get treatment.

The initiative works with dozens of law enforcement agencies around the Stateline and is planning on spreading to Freeport. Safe Passage focuses on four areas: prevention, education, treatment, and enforcement. Langloss believes the Stateline needs to emphasize all four areas in order to tackle the heroin epidemic.

The Drug Enforcement Administration has something similar. According to DEA Resident Agent in Charge, Brent Williams, "The 360 approach is 3-prong. Enforcement, diversion, which would accompany doctors, people who prescribe pain management, clinics, and educating them as far as the dangers of opiate addiction and heroin addiction. Lastly, the third prong would be community outreach, as to where we're getting out in front of schools."

Clinical Pharmacist, Kirk Schubert, believes we will see an increase in opioid regulations, saying, "I think if we continue to see this heroin epidemic continue, we'll see tighter and tighter controls on our narcotics, we'll see more and more government involvement, whether that's the FDA or DEA, watching prescription trends."

But could the heroin epidemic get worse before it gets better? Winnebago County Coroner, Sue Fiduccia, doesn't think so. She believes with proper education, the number of heroin users will decline.

"There's more concern, so there's more work being done on it. When we go to schools, we talk about it. When police go to their community services, they talk about it," says Fiduccia.

The Dixon Police Chief disagrees, "I think overall, it's going to get worse before it gets better. I don't think it's going to get worse in Dixon, but for places that don't get out and in front of it, it's going to get much worse."

Efforts are in place to make sure that law enforcement are prepared for the future and working to make sure the epidemic doesn't continue.

"I think all of the people involved in drug overdoses, from your doctors, to your nurses, to your EMS, to your coroners, to police, to law enforcement. To everyone's involved. They're trying to ask those questions now, "Do you know how they got involved? How did this get started?" So our mental health people are now trying to look at that and see is there a common ground there?" says Fiduccia.

Dixon Police Chief, Danny Langloss, says he's working with Rockford Police to expand the Safe Passage Program to the Rockford area, but since Rockford has a bigger population, it could take a while to get the resources together to make the initiative successful.

Updated: May 18, 2016

WINNEBAGO COUNTY, Ill. (WIFR) -- The heroin crisis, is starting to take a toll on our justice system. Studies say, most inmates, are fighting some sort of drug addiction.

It's a drug, that's bombarding our justice system. Heroin is no stranger to the Stateline, but it's severity, is what's troubling. Shane Diedrich battled the addiction for more than a decade, starting with something on grocery store shelves, alcohol.

"I think I was hooked the first time I did. I had to have to have it to go to bed, I had to have it to wake up, I had to have it to brush my teeth. Everything I did revolved around heroin." says Diedrich.

Diedrich was in and out of prison and treatment centers because of his addiction.

"I did 43 days in the Winnebago County jail, and when I got out, that's when I started drug court," he says.

That's what he says, turned his life around. According to national statistics, nearly 50 percent of jail and prison inmates are clinically addicted, and 60 percent of people arrested, test positive for illegal drugs. Judge Janet Holmgren has seen the number of heroin abusers in the court system increase dramatically, for many who come across her courtroom, drug court is their last hope.

"It's a life and death struggle. Drug court is really a life and death struggle. We deploy every single tool at our disposal to try to help people refrain from using these dangerous drugs," says judge Holmgren.

Judge Holmgren says three quarters of the people who come to drug court have a heroin addiction. The two and a half year program is voluntary, and the only other option, is jail. Drug court is highly successful. Holmgren says 85 percent of graduates never do drugs again. But once offenders start the program, there's little room for error.

"Our goal in drug court is for everyone to succeed, but if they don't succeed, they will be punished," says Holmgren.

The Rockford Police Department says, they can't arrest their way out of this epidemic.

"It does put a burden on the officers," says deputy chief Dave Hopkins. "You're looking at over one, every other day. That's a lot of overdoses."

Officers say when they are called to a heroin overdose, they're not there to arrest..but to get victims help, and figure out where they got the drug in the first place.

"We'll talk to anybody, not only them, but members of their family, to try and pinpoint and track the path of heroin in our community," says Hopkins.

After graduating from drug court three years ago, Diedrich is now co-owner of his family business. He no longer considers heroin, as a ball and chain.

"It's not so much a struggle. The struggle is life. It's not the drug anymore. I took that out of my life, and now, it's fixing Shane. When I started being able to fix myself and love myself, everything started falling into place," says Diedrich.

Judge Holmgren says all levels of the court system are trained to deal with the heroin abuse behavioral health issues, all the way from judges, to probation officers, to the state's attorney's office.

Updated: May 17, 2016

WINNEBAGO COUNTY, Ill. (WIFR) – As overdoses continue to rise in the Stateline, first responders have to be prepared to save more lives and they’re using a different kind of drug to do so.

Narcan or Naloxone can help temporarily reverse the effects heroin and opioids have on the body’s central nervous system. Paramedics caution us that it’s not a true antidote because it doesn’t last long, but it can buy someone who has just overdosed enough time to the get the hospital where their chances of survival dramatically increase.

“We expect to see start increasing their respirations, breathing better. We expect to see some color changes, their pupils will return to normal. As well, they can get nauseous,” says Kimberly Schlanger, a paramedic with the Rockford Fire Department.

Doctors say Narcan is almost ineffective if the heroin has been laced with other drugs.

ROCKFORD (WIFR) -- It doesn't matter your age, race, or economic status, the Winnebago County Coroner’s Office says people across the board are dying of heroin overdoses at alarming levels.

39 people have died from taking too much heroin this year, that's up more than 50 percent from the same time last year.

It takes just one hit, one try to get hooked on heroin, but users say it's nearly impossible to stop.

"At that point for me it was too late. I didn't know any other way," Aaron Lynde, a former heroin addict, said.

Lynde is clean now but it took him years to find sobriety. His story starts like most with marijuana, but then he turned to heroin. Lynde says drugs were his solution to everything, but it quickly spiraled out of control.

"Eventually the drugs stopped working, eventually the Band-Aid became the wound. It went from the solution to the problem," he explained.

Heroin is taking over our community and if you think it's not around you, in your neighborhood cops say you're wrong.

"It can be from upper, to lower, to middle class," Brent Williams, DEA Resident in Charge of the Rockford Office, said.

One of the main reasons for heroin's recent surge is the price. Most drug addicts find heroin is cheaper than prescription painkillers. While pills like oxycodone sell for $30 per tablet. a bag of heroin is $10,.sometimes not even that much.

"There are people handing out free samples all over town," Lynde explained.

Detectives say now the drug trade has changed.

"We have experienced where you have your street sales, known drug houses and some of that still does take place, but by and large now the guys and gals that are delivering are doing it with the use of their vehicle," Rockford Police Sgt. Randy Berke said.

The DEA says it all starts in Mexico.

"The Mexican cartel and organized crime have already had those routes established through cocaine routes and are using those same transitory routes to move their heroin," Williams said.

In 2014 the DEA says it seized 11,000 pounds of the drug in the U.S.

"We are targeting the most violent, largest drug trafficking organizations both here nationally such as in Rockford and taking those investigations back in the United States and even internationally," Williams explained.

Cops say the danger of heroin is its potency. Dealers cut it with other substances, lowering the purity. Users never know how strong their dose is until it’s too late. Winnebago County Coroner Sue Fiduccia says many times users think they're buying cocaine, but are getting heroin instead.

"Heroin is much more powerful and they don't have a clue because they're thinking its cocaine and its killing them left and right. Some of them are not even getting to the hospital," Fiduccia explained.

It was a risk Lynde knew he was taking every time he got high. Now clean, he makes different choices.

"Just for today I choose not to use, and my life has gotten so much better because of that. Today I don't think about picking up a drug," he said.

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