Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Grief it's Complicated OCT 27, 2010

How time sure does fly by. Fall is among us, and do I dare say that the winter months are slowly approaching. Those dreadful months of most of us when it's cold, dreary and the sun sure doesn't shine. By Jamie Sotonoff Daily Herald Staff 9/30/2010

What began as a few suburban moms fed up with the community's unorganized efforts toward drug education and prevention has evolved into the new Ela Coalition Against Youth Substance Abuse.The coalition is composed of roughly two dozen high-ranking police, school and business leaders from around the Lake Zurich area, as well as a doctor, social service administrators, parents and local PTO presidents.

Coalition member and Lake Zurich Police Chief Patrick Finlon says the group is compiling data on the use of substances like alcohol, marijuana, prescription drugs and heroin among young people in the area.

"What we're really trying to do here is identify the substances being abused, and then educate the parents. Awareness is a big part of this. Not fear, but knowledge," he said. "What the problem boils down to is availability. We'll develop strategies to reduce availability."

Educating young people about these substances is another goal, said coalition member Susan Kostner, an alcohol and drug counselor and the clinical director of Ela Township's social work program.
"We're also looking at the kids doing positive stuff, and how to keep them staying positive and making them role models in the community," she said. "We have to get people involved."

The coalition was formed this summer after a standing-room-only drug education forum at Lake Zurich High School in February. The idea was to study the problems and see what ideas realistically can be put into action.

"Forums are great. People get excited and riled up, but then what? This (coalition) gives people an opportunity to get organized to address the issues," said Liz Nelson, a coalition member and a community health specialist with the Lake County Health Department.

Ideas being discussed include drug testing in area high schools, crackdowns on underage liquor sales, and educating parents about things to watch for to make sure their children aren't using drugs.
The group also is planning an educational forum for parents Oct. 27 at Lake Zurich High School, to be held in conjunction with Red Ribbon Week. The schools and businesses are getting involved, encouraging people to wear the color red, displaying fliers promoting the event, and working to increase awareness about drugs in the suburbs.

"Everyone has just rallied around this issue," Nelson said.

Drugs are a chronic problem across the Chicago area.

Recent headlines include a "Dial-A-Rock" crack and cocaine operation in Arlington Heights, an indoor pot farm in Woodstock, a "historically large" methamphetamine bust in Aurora, and a record number of heroin-related deaths in Lake County.

Roosevelt University released a study this summer that ranked the suburbs among the worst nationally for heroin-related problems. The report found a spike in the number of heroin overdoses in the collar counties up 130 percent in Lake County in the last decade, up 150 percent in three years in McHenry, and up 100 percent in just two years in Will.

As a result of all this, many communities across the suburbs, including Barrington, Mundelein and Des Plaines, have formed coalitions to address these issues. Lake Zurich's is the newest addition.
"It is in our backyard and there are kids from Lake Zurich who have died. But we have to take it a step at a time," Kostner said.
Michelle Hines, the Lake Zurich mom who spearheaded the effort for the initial forum that led to the Ela coalition's creation, applauds her community for not trying to sweep the problems under the rug.
Instead, she said, a lot of people are ready to face them head-on.

Raising awareness and education is the key, she said.

"Not every community is willing to do this," Hines said. "It is time-consuming ... but it only takes one person to get it started. It's not all me; it's the community. We were called to come together, and we came. We just have to keep it rolling."

Anyone interested in becoming involved is invited to attend the next meeting, at 10 a.m. Monday at Ela Town Hall, 1155 E. Route 22, in Lake Zurich. For information about other upcoming meetings, call Kostner at (847) 540-8380.

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