By KEVIN NEVERS
For more than 15
years--since the Chesterton Tribune
first reported, in 1998, the existence of a heroin problem here--the drug
crisis in Porter County has been a hot-button issue.
The Porter County
Substance Abuse Council, then the Community Action Drug Coalition, and most
recently EMPOWER Porter County have all worked to promote awareness of
substance abuse and addiction, particularly among our youth; have sponsored
numerous community forums and events; have raised money for treatment
The Times and The Post-Tribune--has
shown no interest in whitewashing the problem, on the contrary has dutifully
covered the overdose casualties, the heroin pipeline to Chicago, the tainted
Services Inc., meanwhile--joined several years ago by Frontline Foundations
Inc.--has done its best to provide homegrown treatment services to those in
Even a drug court,
under Porter Superior Court Judge Julia Jent, has been established, in an
effort to fasttrack users into treatment and out of the criminal justice
So it’s not as
though folks in Porter County have been sitting on their hands, or merely
But sometimes it
takes outsiders, with no ties to the community and no special knowledge of
it, to frame and clarify the terms of an issue.
On Wednesday, the
Porter County Substance Abuse Council sponsored “Let’s Talk: A Community
Conversation” at The Waterbird, keynoted by Alan Markwood and Tim Cramer of
Chestnut Health Systems, an addiction treatment provider based in
point: there is no magic-bullet solution to the drug problem and, indeed,
sometimes the commonsensical approach proves to be, counterintuitively, very
nearly the worst one you can take.
As Markwood noted,
the very prevalent notion, namely, that simply showing kids the consequences
of drug use should be enough to persuade them in the first place not to
experiment--the notion that “if young people only
knew, they wouldn’t do it”--is actually
wrong and wrong-headed.
aren’t adults,” Markwood said. “They think differently. Sometimes that
message can be counterproductive, depending on the audience. It’s surprising
how much that doesn’t solve the problem.”
There are three key
points to consider in any discussion of possible solutions, Markwood said:
* The prevalence of
youth substance use increases with age. Thus 21.5 percent of 16-year-olds
report drinking in the past month, while 39.2 percent of 18-year-olds do and
55.3 percent of 20-year-olds do.
number of substances used by youth also increases with
age, in a non-random fashion. That is to say, it’s highly unlikely
that any given youth will ever try heroin but virtually everyone who does
first tried marijuana. Markwood, in other words, made a compelling case for
marijuana as a gateway drug. “The earlier you start the use of any drug, the
more likely you are to have a problem and to use more drugs,” he said.
prevention efforts need to take into account two different things: a person’s
individual risk factors--one’s personality, genetic
predispositions, and any “adverse childhood experiences”--but
also social factors. The latter may include peer pressure, norms relating to
alcohol or drug use, and the availability of substances like alcohol.
What has made
heroin such an emergent problem in the community? Markwood’s colleague, Tim
Cramer, said that it’s due to the following, a “perfect storm” of factors:
* Heroin is cheap.
The market is flooded with the stuff and the supply has outpaced the demand.
* Heroin is easy to
get. Drive to Chicago. Drive to Gary. Or make friends with someone who will.
* Heroin is easy to
use the first time. A person need only snort it. Most first-time users of
heroin convince themselves that they’ll only ever
snort it, never shoot it, Cramer said. And then one day they always
* Heroin provides
the probably the best high of any drug in the world. A high, Cramer said,
that users simply can’t find the words to describe.
* The stigma of
heroin use is gone among the youth. In some circles it’s
been replaced by a heroin chic.
“Kids are looking
around and seeing themselves using it,” Cramer said.
* At the same time,
the stigma of heroin use is as potent as it ever was among adults, the
schools, and in the community. For that reason a lot of folks may simply
refuse to see it as a problem in Duneland or even in Porter County.
“There’s a profound shame” associated with heroin use, Cramer
said, and “because of that shame the numbers are suppressed. You don’t see
it in the newspapers.” Or at least not in the Illinois newspapers.
Once upon a time
the average heroin user was a black adult male in the inner city. That trend
is now being set on its head: more and more heroin users are under 18,
they’re from middle-class or upper-class families, and increasingly they’re
Most of the
community only knows the obvious impact of heroin use: the fatal overdoses,
the street crime, the strain on the criminal justice system. But the impact
on the families of addicts is godawful, Cramer said. From the dark night of
the soul, as seen by the parents of junkies:
“They sell everything that’s not bolted down to get their
$200 a day.”
“I’ve called my son’s dealer to find out where he is.”
“You don’t know what to do to save their life.”
“It breaks the soul of the family. You never sleep. You only
wonder if you’re going to get the call.”
“You pray they’ll get arrested.”
“You begin to think that relapses are your punishment for
last piece of advice to attendees on Wednesday--before they broke into small
groups to begin the conversation--was this: there’s a
tendency in a community grappling with the drug problem to go off on tilt,
to do something, anything, just to be doing something. Don’t, Cramer said.
Don’t do something that won’t work or is counterproductive, simply to be
able to say that you’re making an effort.
approaches, Cramer said, will stick to science, rely on data, balance
specific short-term initiatives with long-term ones, and will involve the
community in a unified plan.