The rise of heroin and opiate addiction is one of the “most alarming trends” in behavioral health practices in Southern Illinois, according to Centerstone, which is hosting a forum on the topic today.
The event, sponsored by the behavioral healthcare agency, will take place from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. in Batteau Room F103 at John A. Logan College, 700 Logan College Dr., in Carterville.
The event is free and open to the public.
Kathryn Sime, Centerstone’s spokeswoman, said the event was “prompted by what our clinicians have been seeing in terms of a significant increase in addictions to opiates as well as heroin among our client base.”
The purpose of the forum is to foster an “understanding of the nature of this disorder,” she said.
Stephen Wigginton, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Illinois, will be the event’s keynote speaker. A roundtable discussion will follow featuring Centerstone clinicians and a local woman recovering from opiate and heroin addiction.
Sime said many people get hooked on heroin who do not fit the stereotype of a drug abuser. Often, she said, people start with the legal use of prescription drugs such as OxyCotin for a legitimate injury or medical problem and stay hooked long after their prescriptions have run out.
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They may then attempt to buy prescription opiates illegally on the street, and eventually turn to heroin because it’s so much cheaper and more readily available, she said.
The woman speaking Thursday afternoon about her path through heroin addiction and eventually into recovery has a “really powerful story,” Sime said. “In some ways, it came out of nowhere for her. This is not somebody you would have thought would have a heroin addiction.”
Perry County Sheriff Steve Bareis said his department has dealt with the surge in illegal opiate and heroin use during the last two years or so. Bareis said the sheriff's office has responded to several heroin overdoses in recent months, at least one resulting in death.
“Heroin is definitely on the increase,” Bareis said.
Tom McNamara is the special projects coordinator for the Southern Illinois Enforcement Group, a law enforcement consortium formed in 1973 to fight the illegal drug trade in the region. He said heroin is much more potent than it once was.
As a result, a user doesn’t have to start off by shooting up, but can instead inject or snort it.
“As a consequence, it’s a situation where a lot of people who would normally not use it because it had to be injected start with smoking or snorting it. Ultimately, they will end up with a needle because that’s how you’re going to get the most ‘bumped’ for your dollar,” he said.
Sime said her organization also wants to spread the message that, while addiction is devastating, often leading to jail and/or one having his or her children taken away, “there’s treatment and hope is possible.”
“Recovery is possible," she said. "We are privileged to help people with that.”
Centerstone, formerly the H Group, serves children and adults primarily in Franklin, Jackson and Williamson counties. The agency has offices in Carbondale, Carterville, Marion and West Frankfort.
On Twitter: @MollyParkerSI