If heroin is here, what’s next?

 

     Stung by assertions made by Orland Fire Protection District (OFPD) officials about heroin abuse in the area, Orland Park officials reacted swiftly and strongly with assertions of their own.

The bone of contention is a set of statements made by fire district officials at their presentation on July 15 about drug abuse and other poor choices in life. The event was held at OFPD headquarters, before an audience of about 100 parents and youths.

            The presentation was covered by The Regional News, which accurately chronicled what was asserted by officials, who said that children in and around Orland Park have been under a “terrorist attack” by the Taliban and others who are responsible for heroin being cheap and easily available in communities across America, including to children in Orland Park and Homer Glen.

Orland Fire officials also used the word “epidemic” when talking about drug use in school, both locally and nationally. They also criticized local school officials for declining their offer to bring their signature “In the Blink of An Eye” presentation to children as young as fourth grade—an assertion reportedly plainly by The Regional News.

            In a statement released to the press and posted on the village website (orlandpark.org) last Friday, Mayor Daniel McLaughlin criticized OFPD officials.

“I have watched and read the news reports regarding the fire protection district’s public presentation on July 15th,” he said, “and was deeply concerned with the inaccurate and misleading account provided in their presentation. As public officials, we have a special responsibility to ensure that residents receive exact and correct information – especially when it comes to the safety of their children. Sadly, this was not the case here. The fire district portrayed our village and our police department as being unresponsive to this critical issue and nothing could be further from the truth.”

Dr. Janet Stutz, superintendent of Orland School District 135, was also quoted in the village’s press release criticizing the fire district’s awareness forum.

“I’m quite perplexed by claims that fire protection district staff have not been allowed to make presentations to our students,” she said. “They have attended our safety meetings.  We’ve collaborated with them on CPR training and other fire prevention and protection programs and District 135 has a history of participating in fire district sponsored educational workshops regarding drugs and keeping children off drugs.”

            Stutz continued, “I always viewed our partnership as very strong and effective.  In addition, the implication that there is a drug epidemic in District 135 schools is simply not true. I do not know where any of this came from.”

The village statement also gave Orland Park Police Chief Tim McCarthy an opportunity to weigh in.

“I have to express my disappointment that the police department was never notified about this meeting nor were we asked to participate,” McCarthy said. “If we were, we would have corrected the misleading and erroneous information then and there.”

Regarding reports that there is a drug epidemic in Orland’s elementary schools, McCarthy said, “I can assure parents and the community that this is not the case. To make an allegation like this is frankly careless and a disservice to parents and the entire community. Drugs and alcohol abuse are without a doubt a critical concern in every community in America, and Orland Park is not immune from this threat.”

            The chief touted his department’s efforts regarding substance abuse prevention. 

“The Orland Park Police Department has been very proactive for decades with sponsoring educational efforts  to inform our children of the effects of drug use and to help them make the right choices as they go on to high school,” he asserted. “We’ve been very active in our schools, and they have been particularly cooperative. Our department has produced a three-part round table video series about heroin, which is available to parents through the village’s YouTube channel and on the village’s website.

“Our DARE Program, that we started in 1987, and the subsequent DARE Booster Program have been very effective according to school officials and parents,” McCarthy added.

            “Every day, parents throughout this community ask themselves, ‘Are my kids going to be safe?’ ‘Will they fall victim to drug or alcohol abuse?’ That’s horrifying enough without it being fueled with inaccurate and misleading information provided by fire district officials,” McCarthy concluded.

           

Orland Fire fires back

 

            In what has become a “dueling press releases” situation, Orland Fire Protection District officials fired back with a public statement of their own last Sunday night, which they distributed to the press and posted at orlandfire.org.

“The Orland Fire Prevention District is puzzled and surprised that Orland Park Mayor Dan McLaughlin would criticize the Fire District for hosting a program to raise awareness among parents about drug and substance abuse in the suburban region,” the statement began. “The program…has been hosted annually for the past four years. It was widely publicized, showcasing student role models and parents whose children and families have experienced the tragedy of drugs and substance abuse.”

The OFPD statement accused McLaughlin of implying that “there is no heroin or substance abuse problem in Orland Park or the immediate suburbs and contradicts public statements made only four weeks earlier by Orland Park Police Chief Tim McCarthy.

“We are deeply disappointed McLaughlin would issue his criticism without even contacting us to discuss the issue, or even attending the event which was widely publicized in the media,” OFPD President Jim Hickey said.

“The mayor’s press release was filled with inaccurate and irresponsible statements. I am deeply disappointed when public officials show more concern for their public images rather than for the safety and well-being of our citizens.”

Hickey said the information disseminated at the Fire District’s public meeting was accurate and correctly defined the threat of heroin and substance abuse as serious concerns that must be addressed by an educated community.

“It would be shameful to believe public officials would bury their heads in the sand and pretend there is no drug abuse problem in our region. The data shows a frightening increase in heroin and opiate abuse in this region and it needs to be addressed,” Hickey said. “That’s the only conclusion I can make from the mayor’s actions.”

Hickey also claimed that there has not been “a concerted effort to address the rising drug problems” in the area.

“Drug use isn’t a problem that plagues ‘bad neighborhoods’ or ‘poor communities,’” he added. “It’s a problem everywhere and responsible public officials should do everything they can to educate and inform the public. That’s what the Fire District has and will continue to do,” Hickey said.

            The full text of the statements are posted on their respective websites.

            Each side in the dispute has indicated a willingness to meet with and work with the other, although officials have not said if that will occur any time soon.

DR color page1 4cols HeroinGroup 072414-copy

Photo by Tim Hadac

The OFPD seminar included first-person testimonials from adults whose lives were dramatically altered by the alcohol and substance abuse of their children, and it also included practical advice from three young athletes, including Olympic silver medalist and Palos Heights resident Kendall Coyne.

 

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