This week, Governor Pat Quinn expanded the scope of a special task force studying heroin use in Illinois Schools, and Macoupin County state senator says he is hopeful to soon see the development of a statewide approach to curb drug abuse and increase awareness.
The governor has now allowed the Young Adults Heroin Use Task Force to begin looking at heroin use among students in grades six through 12; the task force has been looking only at high-school grades since it was created last year.
As a member of the task force, Illinois Senator Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, said his focus is on giving parents and teachers the tools and ability to detect signs of heroin use early while other tasks force groups are now beginning to meet to look into other areas … including the law enforcement side of the issue.
While it’s also more prevalent in larger cities, Manar said, “this is a problem that has crept into rural areas.” In many town hall meetings, he’s heard more concerns from law enforcement officials and parents about the growing use of heroin among younger students.
“I was surprised by that as well,” Manar said. “The most startling thing is not only the use of heroin at a younger and younger age, but the availability. … We struggle to talk about these things, but I’m of the belief that if we don’t have these conversations and look at it head-on we’re never going to solve it.”
In the investigation, he said the task force has found that prescription medication abuse is one of the primary gateways into heroin use. Addressing that issue and developing curriculum that reinforces the awareness of the deadly and highly addictive nature of heroin among students could be workable paths toward prevention.
“I don’t think the legislature can fix this on its own,” Manar said. “This is going to take involvement from schools and parents and law enforcement all working together. But I do believe there are steps we can take at the state level, like we did with meth production and meth distribution. … It’s going to take a different approach but there are some things we can do.”
He also said that conversations with school administrators and law enforcement have been the most helpful in investigating this issue, and said developing tools for adults — instead of state-mandated requirements —will make sure, “law enforcement, parents and educators know what they are looking at when they see it.”
“If we don’t get our hands around it, I think we’re facing a public health crisis,” he said. “It’ll get out of control and cost us a lot more in the long run.”
Cody Bozarth can be reached at (217) 245-6121, ext. 1223, or on Twitter @JCnews_Cody.