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Don’t let’s quibble about fighting heroin

We at The Regional agree with the village of Orland Park and its Police Department’s call “for public education and accuracy” about the growing heroin epidemic in the suburbs in response to a public awareness forum held by the Orland Fire Protection District on July 15.

That call came in a village press release sent late last Friday afternoon in response to the forum on heroin and other drug use held by the fire district, at which Palos Heights silver medalist Olympian Kendall Coyne and other role-model student athletes urged their peers to make healthy over self-destructive decisions.

Orland Park Police Chief Tim McCarthy stated in the village release: “I have to express my disappointment that the police department was never notified about this meeting nor were we asked to participate. If we were, we would have corrected the misleading and erroneous information then and there.” Apparently, village p.r. wordsmiths decided that the forum unfairly attacked local schools and the village for not doing enough to combat heroin use by village youth.

Surely, the village doth protest too much. We sent a reporter to the forum and covered it fully not to hear or cast aspersions on any local government, but to find out and report on the scope of the problem. We learned that the fire district responded to some 60 heroin overdose ambulance runs, with six drug deaths in 2013.

Reading the village’s “refutation” (the word rebuttal would be more accurate) in its entirety, one is under the clear impression that village officials took the forum as implied criticism of the village’s response to the heroin threat in and around Orland Park. It left us wondering if the village is more concerned about the heroin problem itself, or the political perception left by the fire district’s public awareness forum.

The fire district soon came out with its own response to the village’s response. Above and beyond the dueling responses, the quibble between them does not interest us in the least bit here. What interests us is whether little Billy, Janie or Johnnie from Palos-Orland is at risk from the blandishments of peer pressure to try heroin for the first—and perhaps fatally the last – time by the time they graduate high school.

The questions remain after the village of Orland Park’s so-called refutation: How much are children here at risk for heroin use by the time they reach or end high school? How many heroin arrests for possession or the intent to deliver were made by Orland Park police in 2013, 2012? How many overdose incidents did police respond to? What can the broad community do—parents, police, the schools, churches, organizations and all those who care — to combat in the bud this poison that kills unwary users. Can we treat and cure this growing public health menace?

The Orland Fire District forum July 15 was another in a series of public awareness wake-up calls to the heroin threat to local youth that it and previously the Orland Township youth/health offices sporadically held, once at Sandburg High school, and at the fire district and township venues since 2009-10 and even earlier to share information about the scope of the problem.

We think the community would benefit from further heroin awareness forums. We’d like to see the health/youth experts from the township return to the table. And, we agree with Chief McCarthy. Next time invite the village and its Police Department to the table. Let them share their numbers and facts, and precisely what they and the village have done and can do to protect the public safety of your kids. 

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