Heroin: Parents Need to Know as Much as Their Teens, Experts Say
Drug education effort provides clues to signs of drug use, tips on prevention.
Lake Zurich-area residents who have experienced personal tragedy and suffering due to heroin addiction stood up last week at Lake Zurich High School and told their stories, sometimes struggling through tears.
They were there because they want parents to know that heroin and prescription drug use is a big problem in Lake County and in Lake Zurich — that it is prevalent throughout Lake County.
“You have a significant heroin problem here in Lake County. If you don’t know that, tonight is the night you learn,” said Kane County Undersheriff David Wagner, at the Parents You Matter program, held May 3 at Lake Zurich High School.
One of the messages of the night was that kids know a lot more about drugs, and have more exposure to drugs, than parents believe they do.
“Parents are not seeing how prevalent heroin is. Kids have a different perception … They know heroin as much as you knew marijuana,” said Michelle Hines of Lake Zurich.
Hines’ oldest son is in recovery from heroin addiction. She leads a recovery group at Willow Creek Church and is a member of Hearts of Hope, a nonprofit organization dedicated to drug education and support.
Speakers want area residents to know that parents are the key to prevention.
“People can get better; treatment works. But prevention is better,” said Lea Minalga of Geneva, a certified drug counselor and director of Hearts of Hope.
Organizers of the parenting workshop were disappointed with the low turnout.
“Kids are our most precious possession, but when it comes to drugs and alcohol, parents are complacent or in denial. I was one of those parents who didn’t look at things,” Minalga said.
Like many of today’s addicts, Minalga’s son was a good student.
“He followed the rules. He was told he was loved every single day … At 16, he was taking a needle and shoving it into his veins and had a $200 to $300 a day habit,” she said. Minalga’s son is also in recovery.
“It takes the average parent 20 months before they learn of their child’s drug abuse, but by that time it is ingrained and has altered their brain,” Minalga said.
Teens make the bad decision to use drugs in part because their brains still are undeveloped, Minalga explained. Teen brains lead teens to make decisions that are highly emotional and impulsive. Learn more about why teens use drugs at DrugFree.org.
It’s easy for teens to get drugs. Devan Reed, 24, said that when he was a student at Fremd High School, it was easier to buy drugs than to get a 12-pack of beer. Stephanie Kuhns, 23, of Lake Zurich, said teens just need to drive down the streets on the West Side of Chicago and dealers come to their cars offering drugs.
Most middle-age parents have a different perception of heroin than their children. “When I was growing up, heroin — that was an inner-city, back-alley, hypodermic-needle problem; we didn’t see that in the suburbs,” said Undersheriff Wagner.
“Today teens have a much different view (of heroin), because they don’t have to inject it initially. Most teens start out snorting it. They don’t feel like that junky if they can start by snorting it,” he said.
Only 57 percent of kids see a great risk in snorting heroin once or twice, according to the Partnership at DrugFree.org.
Wagner said heroin addiction goes hand in hand with prescription drug problems. Many kids start out using drugs by going through their parents’ medicine cabinets. DrugFree.org has a list of the signs of substance abuse, which include missing prescription drugs and the disappearance of valuables.
A beginning addict may start failing in school or acting emotional. The consequences range from felony records to death.
Three of the speakers at the program lost loved ones to heroin addiction.
Joyce Hoch, of Palatine, lost her son, Jimmy, to a heroin overdose in 2010. She said her son battled drug addiction for nine years. She warned parents that kids can be very good liars. Her son was addicted for four years before she found out. According to DrugFree.org, teens are a never-ending source of ingenuity when it comes to hiding drug use.
“Our hope, as a family, is that we can reach out to try and help others. If you need to ask for help, don’t be embarrassed,” she said. “It’s an epidemic out there and we’ve got to find a way to get more parents out here.”
Stephanie Kuhns of Lake Zurich lost her brother Lewis to a heroin overdose in 2009. Now in recovery herself, Kuhns started using heroin when she was 14. She said a friend of her boyfriend came over and offered it. She thought, “Why not?”
“It took over my life; it took my brother’s life,” she said.
“We’re here because we want to prevent people from dying. We don’t want any more people to die (of heroin overdoses) because it’s so hard to go through.”
“I know nine people who died (from a drug overdoses). Every time I heard someone died, I felt so bad for their families; and then my brother died,” she said.
Devan Reed was a star athlete at Fremd High School, participating in wrestling, gymnastics and cheerleading. He became addicted to cocaine in high school and later heroin. He has been in recovery for three years.
“My parents never talked to me. They would say, ‘He’s so good at sports,’ ” Devan said. He wished that they would have talked to him and not have denied that there was a problem.
“I’ve been to over 30 funerals, a lot of them in Lake Zurich,” he said.
“It’s an unnatural thing for kids to know so many kids who died. It’s a national tragedy,” Minalga said.