Fighting the heroin ‘epidemic’
7/12/12 Glenview P.J. Nixon Newberg and her daughter Paula Nixon pose together in their home.P.J. believes a heroin addition wave among teens exists in Glenview. She's a drug counselor and is hosting a talk on the topic 8/14 at glenview public library.Her daughter Paula is a recovered addict. | Tamara Bell~Sun Times Media
P.J. Newberg is presenting a “Learn About Heroin in Our Community” forum at 7 p.m. Monday, at the Northbrook Public Library, 201 Cedar Lane.
The forum is sponsored by the Northshore Secret Heroin Problem.
Updated: December 9, 2012 6:40AM
P.J. Newberg, a Glenview resident, is trying to warn her suburban neighbors about a silent killer at their doors.
Smack. Ska. Junk. H. They are the many names for heroin, an addictive opiate processed from morphine. It comes in many forms, from white or brown powder or a black sticky compound.
It can be injected, snorted or smoked, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Its short-term effects include euphoria and cloudy thinkin drowsy periods, but heroin also depresses breathing, so an overdose can be fatal, the Institute stated.
“People here don’t believe that heroin is a problem,” Newberg said. “But kids here are experimenting with it younger and younger. It has become an epidemic, but no one wants to talk about it.”
Newberg, who earned a master’s degree in guidance and counseling from Northeastern Illinois University, is holding her own daughter up as an example because neither silence nor secrecy helps, she said.
Paula Nixon was to graduate last spring from Glenbrook South High School in Glenview, but now is in a drug rehabilitation center instead. Although Newberg didn’t know it at the time, Nixon and a friend had been shooting up in February of 2011 in her daughter’s bedroom.
Before leaving in the morning, both agreed to inject a bag of heroin. However, as Nixon prepared for classes at Glenbrook South High School, the friend overdosed and suffered a seizure. Nixon called an ambulance, applied artificial respiration, and eventually life returned. Had Nixon shot up with him, they both might be dead, Newberg said.
Trail of tears
Nixon also lost her boyfriend, Dayne Poyser. The 19-year-old, 2009 Glenbrook South High School graduate died Jan. 22 of opiate intoxication at his home in unincorporated Glenview, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office.
On Oct. 16, two young Glenview women were arrested behind the Wilmette Dairy Queen on Lake Avenue while one of them was shooting up heroin. Jessica Johnson, 20, and Katherine Karls, 24, now face felony drug charges.
“Sarah,” a 19-year-old Northbrook resident who asked that her real name not be used, said she started using drugs when she was 13.
Sarah attended Glenbrook North High School her freshman year, then transferred to alternative off-campus schools before dropping out.
“I started on heroin when I was 15 or 16. I was in the car with a couple of friends, both guys from Northbrook, when they went to get it. I ended up trying it ...” Sarah said.
“I used heroin two and a half years. I also was in AA on and off, when in January, my sponsor in the program died after going back out,” she said. “That hit me. I reached my lowest point. I got high a few times after that, then stopped.”
Sarah went through a medical detox program, is waiting tables and looking forward to going back to school. She is thinking about becoming a parole officer.
“Abby,” not her real name, is a 20-year-old single Northfield mother who has been clean for three years. She is working part-time at a coffee shop until her 4-month-old baby is a little older, so she can return to school.
“I was at a party in Skokie and ended up in a hospital, because someone had shot me up. I don’t remember it at all,” Abby said. “My heart stopped and I was dead for six minutes, then I was brought back to life. That experience got me into AA, and that changed my life.”
Abby started using drugs by smoking pot during her freshman year at New Trier High School, then graduated to prescription pills, cocaine and acid. She was 17 and beginning her senior year when she was with friends from work who introduced her to heroin, she said.
Now she is worried about her baby’s future, since both she and his father are addicts.
Addressing the issue
Three experts will speak on the issue at a community forum at 7 p.m. Monday, at the Northbrook Public Library: Former Cook County prosecutor Chad Sabora, former Chicago Police Capt. John Roberts and Kathy Kane-Willis, co-founder and director of the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy.
Sabora, who grew up in Skokie, said he became addicted to prescription pain killers when both his parents died of cancer during a two year period.
“I was taking pain killers to get high and take myself away from the situation. It was a catalyst, but I’ve always suffered from an addictive personality. I’m not trying to evade something that’s my personal responsibility,” he said.
Sabora doesn’t believe in assisted detox, so he quit “cold turkey.”
“It was unbearable – leg cramps and feeling like I was crawling out of my skin. I couldn’t leave the bathroom; I felt week and wanted to throw up, and hot and cold flashes,” he said. “It took about 26 days before I slept … Then about six months went by and I started to feel like my old self again. I’m coming up to my 16-month anniversary.”
Sabora, who now lives in St. Louis, has started STL Heroin Help (stlheroinhelp.org) to help other addicts.
“The most important thing we can do is to drop that stigma of shame. These kids have a sickness like a lot of other people do. There is treatment available. They just have to ask for help.”
Roberts, a Lewis University professor, said that after focusing on inner city crime for 33 years on the city’s South Side, he thought he would leave it behind when he moved to suburban Homer Glen. That changed when his teenage son, Billy, died of a heroin overdose.
When Roberts looked into it, he found that so many of his sons’ friends were in treatment or recovery, that he called it a heroin epidemic three years ago. Roberts and Brian Kirk, another Homer Glen dad who lost a son within months of Billy’s death, founded HERO, the Heroin Epidemic Relief Organization.
“In the early 70s, heroin was as much as 7 percent pure and users had to shoot it to get the high,” Roberts said. “Now its 20 percent purer, so anyone who sniffs it or smokes it can get an incredible, intense high, and its cheap – only $10 a bag.”
North Shore teenagers can make arrangements with a guy to meet at a park on Chicago’s west side, take a parent’s car, pull up to a curb and hand over $100, then drive way with 10 to 12 bags of heron, Roberts said.
“It’s done on such a regular basis, that Interstate 290 is called ‘Heroin Highway,’ and kids who pick up some for their friends can actually support their habit by supplying it to the North Shore.”
Right now, more than 40,000 deaths a year across the country are attributed to accidental overdoses. Half are from pain killers or opium based drugs such as heroin, Roberts said. In 18 states, the leading cause of accidental deaths is drug overdosing, far surpassing deaths from traffic accidents.
Kane-Willis, an expert on heroin addiction, said a perception exists that drug use is not prevalent in more affluent areas, but that isn’t true.
“Those who attend the event will learn that heroin knows no economic class distinction. In fact, teens who get big allowances are often the greatest users,” Kane-Willis said. “But recently passed legislation means that those who have drugs on them when someone is overdosing won’t be prosecuted if they call for help. ‘Don’t run. Call 911’,” she said.
“People have to stop closing their eyes to this,” Newberg said. “We have to get the word out.” Staff Writer Todd Shields contributed to this report.