The (RCC) at a Monday press conference introduced a heroin education and prevention project aimed at addressing a deadly drug trend that has become more common in DuPage County.
Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy Director Kathie Kane-Willis, whose agency is partnering with RCC, described the program as described as the first of its kind in the U.S.
“As our research continues to show, there are no programs—none—that focus exclusively on heroin,” Kane-Willis said of nationwide drug-prevention initiatives. “Few of the existing programs mention heroin at all.”
According to RCC CEO Kathleen Burke, the project emphasizes education and prevention. It is currently in the research phase, the first of three one-year phases. The RCC will develop the content of the program in the second phase and RCC educators will launch the developed strategy and evaluate its effectiveness in the third phase.
“Our goal is to stop the use,” Burke said. ”The project is unique because research conducted on the use of heroin will help us identify what factors influence young people in order to prevent inevitable addiction and death.”
The project is named after Reed Hruby, a Crown Point, IN., native and former student at Columbia College in Chicago. Hruby died of a heroin overdose in 2008 at 24, prompting his family began the Reed Hruby Foundation, which also is a partner in the new project and donated $340,000 to its development.
Both Burke and Kane-Willis said that heroin use in the Chicago area, especially the suburbs, is a growing problem. According to Burke, heroin-related hospital discharges in the greater Chicago area rose almost 200 percent from 1997 to 2007. In DuPage County, Burke said, there was a 700 percent increase in heroin seizures from 2009 to 2010.
“The DuPage Metropolitan Enforcement Group points to heroin as the new drug of choice among our young people,” Burke said.
Burke said the Hruby Project will reach out into the community and go where the kids are. It will not be a program solely housed at the RCC. “We’re not going to do any good if we sit here and say come to us,” she said. “We know we have to go to them and we have to go to the families and parents.”
She also mentioned teachers, counselors, and coaches as parties the project will reach out to.
Reed Hruby’s aunt, Brenda Hruby Giesel of Burr Ridge, who spoke Monday on behalf of the Hruby family, said community education is important.“Like many families, we had no idea how prevalent and dangerous the heroin problem is in our community,” she said. “But we do know now.”
Kane-Willis said heroin prevention initiatives are absent because existing drug programs focus on prevention of “gateway” substances such as tobacco, marijuana, and alcohol. The only research Kane-Willis mentioned Monday that is similar to the Hruby Project is being performed in Australia.
“We believe this work, this research, this program that will develop will serve as a model for the country,” Kane-Willis said. “We believe this work will save lives.”
The Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy, a program of Chicago’s Roosevelt University, is underway in performing research for the project. Kane-Willis said they are currently speaking with heroin-involved youth about prevention messages to which they would have responded. Research will then expand to a focus-group stage that will take ideas from non-heroin-involved youth.
Pedro Menendez, vice chair of the RCC Board of Directors and Illinos State Rep. Patricia Bellock (R-47th) also spoke at the press conference.
More information on the Hruby Project can be found at the RCC website or by emailing email@example.com.