FOX 32 NEWS - It's a problem of pandemic proportions as nearly one thousand people died last year in the Chicago area from opioid overdoses. That statistic includes four counties: Cook, DuPage, Will and Lake.
Brian Kirk, co-founder of the HERO Foundation, is part of a group holding an annual summit this Friday in Romeoville. The Heroin-Opioid Summit was started in Will County when the opioid epidemic really took off.
Kirk’s son, 18-year-old Matthew, died 8 years ago when he overdosed on heroin.
“Went down in rec room downstairs and that's where I found my son in the fetal position,” said Kirk. “As a father you are supposed to be there to help your kids and I wasn't.”
Now, he and his organization help others and offer resources to users and their families at a time when opioid overdoses continue to increase.
2016 Opioid Overdose Deaths: Lake County - 59; DuPage County - 107; Will County - 96; Cook County - 729 * (number will still most likely increase)
In Will County, there was a 45 percent increase in heroin deaths from 2015 to 2016.
“I didn't know the children who died, but I knew their parents, probably half a dozen - it's pretty scary,” said Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow, who calls it a pandemic.
He says they have locked up hundreds of drug dealers, convicted people of drug-induced homicide and their drug court has a 95 percent success rate, but he says it's still not enough.
“We've got the unfettered flow of heroin from Mexico we've got big pharma pumping out more opioids than needed,” said Glasgow. “We've been addressing it aggressively since 2011 and it keeps going up no matter what we are doing.”
Will County officials recognized the growing problem years ago and started an annual opioid summit.
“If you just look at the numbers it can be disheartening,” said Paul Lauridsen the Executive Director of Stepping Stones treatment center. “I think it's important for people to come out and hear what's been done and the prospects for the future.”
He says on Friday they will discuss how millions of dollars through a 5-year federal grant will be put to good use in Illinois.
“Trying to bring communities together collaboration so that you've got all the parties law enforcement, healthcare,” said Lauridsen.
Will county grant coordinator Dr. Kathleen Burke will use funds to distribute the opioid antidote, naloxone, and continue education programs.
“Working with physicians and caregivers to assess the manner in which they provide care to folks who have substance use disorder and mental health,” said Burke.
The public is encouraged to attend the summit.
It will held Friday at the Edward Hospital Athletic and Event center in Romeoville starting at 7:30am – 11:30am.