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Son's death started heroin conversation

Brock A. Stein | 4/26/2017, 1:52 p.m.
Brian Kirk knew that something was wrong when he arrived at his Homer Glenn home back in 2009 and saw ...
A photo of Matthew Kirk one of the many young victims of the heroin epidemic in Will County. Photo by Brock A. Stein

Brian Kirk knew that something was wrong when he arrived at his Homer Glenn home back in 2009 and saw his son’s back pack sitting on the kitchen floor.

Kirk had left for his job around 5:30 a.m. that day but called about 40 minutes later to make sure his son Matthew, a senior at Lockport High School, was awake and getting ready. He called a while later again to make sure he had his back pack and was ready to go.

He said that he and Matthew had an appointment later that afternoon to meet with his school counselor and to make sure that he was on track to graduate in May.

“I knew something was up right away,” said Kirk one of the founders of HERO (Heroin Epidemic Relief Organization) which held its annual heroin/opioid epidemic summit in Romeoville last week.

He said he started calling his name, checked his room where his bed had been made but became increasingly concerned when his son didn’t respond.

“I was starting to panic,” said Kirk, ““And that’s when I found him.”

Kirk knew that his son had been consuming alcohol and was sneaking cigarettes, but had no idea that he had moved on to harder drugs until he found the 18-year old in the fetal position on the floor of their basement rec room.

At first he thought he had fallen and hit his head on a coffee table but when he reached out to rouse him, he said that he knew. When he turned his son’s body over that’s when he found the needle.

“That day I called him, he was perfectly fine,” recalled Kirk who said when he searched the house later that day he found drugs stashed everywhere.

He believes that his son started by sneaking cigarettes and alcohol and moved on to pills that he and friends pilfered from their parent’s medicine cabinets. Though he’s still not sure what drove him to try heroin for the first time he speculates that it may have been a combination of anxiety over grades, his impending graduation and peer pressure.

The tragedy of his son’s death in 2009 started a community-wide conversation about the prevalence of drug use in Will County and the annual Heroin/Opioid summit his organization organizes each year. The meeting brings together health care experts, addiction specialists, police, fire and other community leaders to continue to find ways to slow the alarming growth of heroin-related deaths.

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The hidden in plain sight trailer shows parents all the possible places their children could be hiding signs of their addiction.

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The inside of the trailer looks like a teenager's bedroom complete with hiding places.

“6 or 7 years ago nobody was even talking about it,” he said.

There were 77 heroin and fentanyl-related overdose deaths in Will County in 2016 up from 53 in 2015 and 35 in 2014. So far in 2017 there have been 17 overdose deaths attributed to heroin and fentanyl, which is increasingly found being mixed with the opioid in recent years.

The problem isn’t exclusive to Will County. 6 Chicago collar counties participated in this year’s summit and are also reporting widespread heroin use. The epidemic has lead to more police, EMT and fire personnel now carrying Naloxone a drug which can immediately reverse the effects of a heroin overdose said DuPage County Board of Health executive director Karen Ayala. She said it’s called the “Lazurus” drug for its ability to immediately revive an overdose victim.

“You can be seconds from dying and the Nalaoxone brings you back to life,” said Ayala who said that the county now has 3,000 personel trained in its use.

Because a large majority of young heroin victims start off by using prescription drugs, Ayala said that parents should question anything being prescribed by a teen’s doctor for sports-related injuries.

“Parents are their kids’ best advocates,” said Ayala.

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