A Small Town Tries to Battle Plague of Opioid Addiction

By John Lavitt 02/24/14

A Heroin Awareness Summit conducted at an Illinois high school tries to address a growing problem that has spread from the cities to rural communities like Winnebago County.

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As drug abuse spirals out of control, poisoning the Midwest, a Heroin Awareness Summit at Harlem High School in Winnebago County attempts to fight the rise of opioid addiction in suburban communities.

In Illinois, politicians have taken steps to raise awareness before kids begin to experiment with drugs. A group of students at Harlem High School learned just how deadly heroin addiction can be when they were told that nearly 200 people have died from overdoses in the past three years in Winnebago County alone.

State Representative John Cabello said such a figure needs to be put in proper perspective: “That's huge. That's more than the homicides and fatal crashes put together," Cabello said. "It doesn't matter if you're rich. It doesn't matter if you're poor. It doesn't matter if you're a teenager. And it doesn't matter if you're a middle-aged person. Heroin affects everybody."

No longer relegated to big cities, heroin has become a major problem across America. Just how easy is it for kids to score heroin in a small town like Rockford? According to Pat Spangler, who works at the Rosecrance Rehab Center, it's easy. "One of the main epicenters for heroin is Chicago," Spangler said.

Heroin has become completely ensconced into this traditionally conservative suburban community. “Now it's almost socially approved of in some circles," Spangler said. "So, it's not only not looked down upon, but sometimes it's encouraged. I think some people believe that if they just turn a blind eye, this problem will go away and statistics show it is not going to."

Winnebago County Coroner Sue Fiduccia explained the toll heroin has taken on these smaller communities. "We must be more aware of the tragedies this epidemic is causing to so many families in our community. No child, while growing up, ever talked or wanted to become a drug addict."

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.