Overdoses Have Nearly Doubled In Illinois' Madison County

By Keri Blakinger 02/01/16

The heroin issue has become the number one focus for law enforcement, schools, and first responders in the metro-east. 

Photo via Shutterstock

Illinois’ Madison County had 77 drug-related deaths in 2015 alone, according to the Belleville News-Democrat. At least 38 of those were heroin overdoses, nearly double the number for 2014. 

Now, one local man—Dave Admire—is trying to help families who, like his own, are affected by the heroin epidemic. 

Admire’s son, Brad, sustained a sports injury when he was 17 and, after shoulder surgery, was prescribed opioid painkillers. 

“He was taking those and the prescription ran out, but by then he was addicted,” Admire said.

Eventually, he switched to heroin. Though he came clean to his dad a few months afterward, four years later he’s still struggling. Now 21, he’s gone through a handful of treatment programs, been locked up and overdosed at least three times. After each stint of clean time, he’d relapse within a few days of leaving treatment. 

“It’s like that with a lot of them; it’s got such a hold on them,” Admire said. “It’s a disease of the brain. They can go to detox or a rehab facility, and they get off the actual drug, but the brain still craves it. They’ll do whatever they have to, to get what they need.”

This situation isn’t unique to Madison County. Heroin overdose deaths are up in a lot of regions, as Madison County Coroner Steve Nonn told the Belleville paper.

“It is to say the least disappointing to see the heroin numbers rising as they did,” he said. “However, the numbers only parallel what is being seen nationally.”

Indeed, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, somewhere around 8,200 people die of heroin overdoses every year. It is estimated that 75% began with legal prescription drugs. 

As drug use is going up, so are drug deaths—in part because the purity of heroin is increasing. Daniel Haskenhoff, the deputy coroner in neighboring St. Clair County, said that 30 years ago, heroin was around 50% pure—but today that number has skyrocketed to around 80 or 90%. 

To address the rise in drug use, Admire now works with a volunteer group that helps families find their way through the complexities of addiction treatment. As is the case elsewhere, availability, insurance and cost are major barriers. 

Also, he’s pushing for awareness and education.

“I’ve talked to a lot of teachers and parents who think they don’t have a problem,” he said. “Most parents think, ‘My kid would never do that.’ I thought there was absolutely no way my kid would do heroin. ... I got into the game a little late.”

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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