Heroin on the Rise

It used to be you’d worry about your kids drinking, but these days, parents have even bigger concerns. Teens are now experimenting with everything from prescription drugs to heroin, and here in Naperville, the problem is on the rise.

Rabon Raulerson was just a teenager, living in South Florida, when a friend introduced him to Oxycodone, a prescription drug used to treat severe pain. He was instantly hooked, but soon discovered he could get a similar high cheaper and turned to heroin.

“From that point on, my days seemed limited,” said Raulerson. “I went downhill faster than I’ve ever seen myself go downhill before. And there was no catching me at this point. I absolutely lost track of who I was.”

Like Raulerson, teenage heroin users in Naperville often start with prescription opiates like Oxycodone or Vicodin.

“There are a lot of teens that end up trying prescription opiates either at home or at school, or with friends out at parties,” said Stephanie Willis, Owner of Willis Counseling and Consulting. “Some of the kids I also think are using just as an escape from depression/anxiety symptoms.”

But with a single pill costing up to $80, the price becomes too steep for teens. So they switch to heroin. One bag, about 1/10th of a gram, goes for $20 in the suburbs. With a quick trip down the Eisenhower, the “Heroin Highway,” to the West Side of Chicago, they can get it for half price. Such a deal, that they often buy extra, which they then sell to their friends. And such a problem, that from 2010 to 2011, there was a 450% increase in heroin arrests among 16 to 19 year olds in Naperville, including a 17 year old charged with dealing, just last month.

“Possession of heroin itself is a felony so you can’t post bond and leave,” said Mike Umbenhower, Detective for the Naperville Police Department. “Yes, it might seem bad that your son or daughter is getting arrested for something, but honestly it’s going to be like one more day they’re actually alive. So, it’s a good thing. It might not seem like at the time but it helps.”

Experts are saying that what used to be known as street life has become hallway life. Last year six people in Naperville died from heroin overdoses. One was a student at Neuqua Valley High School. While heroin is making the headlines, social workers say they see more alcohol, marijuana, and prescription drug use than anything.

“We hear a lot about heroin because when a student is using they may overdose and they do die,” said Pam Witt, Social Worker at Neuqua. “That’s the worst case scenario, but there’s so many other things before the student gets to that point and that’s the things we’re trying to address.”

What’s key is for parents to get involved, and keep an open dialogue with their kids. Trust them, but verify. Check their Facebook pages, keep a log of what’s in your medicine cabinet, and if you’re afraid that heroin might be a problem, then look at their I-Pass account to see if they’ve been driving to the West Side.

Catching an issue early can make all the difference, because as Raulerson knows all too well, once you’re addicted, the withdrawals make quitting seem impossible. He continued using until one day, he was arrested.

“There’s three things that come from this,” said Raulerson. “You’re either going to end up in an institution, you’re either going to end up in jail, or you’re going to end up dead. I ended up in jail. I denied treatment. And I’ve come close to dying. That’s why I left Florida. I had to. I knew that if I stayed there any longer, I’d be gone.”

And recovery is a lifelong battle. Naperville resident William Garcia started experimenting with drugs when he was 12. He used for 20 years, during half of which, he was exclusively on heroin and cocaine. He’s been sober for 23 years but knows he’s just one step away from old habits.

“Every day I have to make a decision,” said Garcia. “I don’t think I got this beat. Not by a long shot. 23 years, no way.”

For Raulerson, it’s only been three years and he knows he has a long journey ahead to stay clean.

More than 500 concerned parents recently attended a forum about heroin at the 95th Street Library. Because of the overwhelming response, the library created a special section about the drug on their website, naperville-lib.org.

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