Effingham raising awareness about growing heroin issue


Heroin: A growing problem in Central Illinois and one town is taking action. As of December 1, there have been 109 treated overdoses in Effingham. Wednesday night an educational forum, open to the public, made the community aware of the problem.

In a survey done of Effingham county residents, meth was the No. 1 drug used. Heroin was not even on the radar. Now seven years later, in a new survey, heroin is the No. 3 illegal drug behind meth and marijuana. So local and state leaders are took the first step and raised awareness about the dangers of the drug.

Heroin is an addictive drug. You can inject it, inhale it or ingest it. Take it once, and you could be hooked.

"When you think of heroin, you don't think of something that could be a problem in a small community but it can be," said the Mayor of Effingham Merv Gillenwater.

And it is a problem.

"We've had about six to seven overdoses due to heroin in the past two years," explained Brandon Grzechowiak, Sergeant with the Illinois State Police. "That's very high for this community."

State police said every day people are taking trips to Champaign to buy the drug.

"One of the major problems with heroin use is its the cause of probably one half of all the cases where DCFS takes the minor child outside of the home," said Effingham County State's Attorney Bryan Kibler.

That's in addition to a growing number of thefts and addiction problems, but perhaps the biggest issue is that people don't know there is one.

"It's not specific to any person," Sergeant Grzechowiak said. "It can affect anyone."

And the solution starts with everyone.

Kibler said that when meth was an even bigger problem, the town held forums, like Wednesday's, to educate the public. Those seemed to help curb the issue, so the hope is that forums on heroin can assist in a community-based solution.

The Champaign County coroner says 46 people have died from drug overdoses in the past three years. Twenty-nine of those involved heroin. Some said people get addicted to painkillers, which increases the use of heroin. And an estimated one-third of people sentenced to drug court in Champaign County in the last two years have been heroin addicts.

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