Dale Navarro grew up on Chicago’s west side, ran with gangs, worked in the Cook County jail system and has witnessed the rise of heroin in Lake County.
Navarro, a Lake County Sheriff’s sergeant, is a tough guy who speaks bluntly in his distinctive Chicago accent.
He lays out the facts about heroin use, using simple yet powerful words.
“When my son got into heroin, I missed the signs,” he said. “I thought, I’m good at what I do and I missed it.”
Navarro’s 26-year-old son has gone through 10 to 15 rehab stints. He’s gone through withdrawal, a process that is gut wrenching when it’s your own child, Navarro said.
His son has overdosed three times, said Navarro, who spoke at a drug forum organized by the Lake County Sheriff’s office at Ela Area Public Library Monday.
Sheriff Mark Curran has been holding the forums throughout the county trying to raise awareness in the communities affected by what has been described as a heroin epidemic. Navarro is one of the speakers. He uses his experience as a 24-year veteran in the county’s correctional department to explain the state of drugs in the county while sharing his family’s struggles.
Every 14 minutes someone dies as a result of drugs, Navarro said. At the end of Monday’s forum at Ela Area Public Library, eight people will have died.
While heroin is the top drug right now, teens are also using whatever they find in their parents’ medicine cabinet to get a buzz, Navarro said. Prescription drugs like Zanax, Vicodin and Oxycodone are popular and dangerous.
“Once the kids start messing with this stuff, it owns them,” he said. “They don’t know what they are getting into. Once they get addicted, it’s brutal,” he said.
If prescription drugs aren’t available, teens turn to the cheapest drug out there to feed their drug addiction, heroin, he said. A bag of heroin can cost as little as $8. Heroin is cheaper than beer, he said.
Heroin addicts use to be in their late 20s, now the sheriff’s office has a jail full of 17 and 18 year-olds, he said. The girls are lost; they get passed around by the drug dealers.
“It affects me everyday in the jail, seeing young kids there,” he said.
Parents must be vigilant and keep tabs on their kids, know who their friends are and watch for warning signs, he said.
A parent’s battle
Navarro has been through a lot with his son. He’s had drug dealers calling his cell phone to collect money for his son’s drug debts. He has called the Cook County morgue to make see if her son was there because he was missing. Navarro was put on hold while someone checked.
“Or, you pull them off the corner and there are drug dealers yelling at you,” he said.
He never knows if the next phone call will be the one to tell him his son is dead. Navarro lives with that thought every day.
Navarro’s son has been clean for six months. A week ago, a relative saw his son at Union Station in Chicago with a cup and a sign. Navarro paused during his speech as he tried to contain his emotions and turned away from the audience. He urged everyone to “please, pay attention.”
“Thank you for coming tonight,” he said. “This is where it has to start, to come here and get educated because we are losing the battle here.”