News Local/State

Proposed Task Force Seeks to Combat Teenage Heroin Use


Rising trends of heroin use in Illinois have prompted State Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) to sponsor a bill that would set up a task force to investigate the issue.

The task force would look at ways to address heroin use in high schools, and share its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly and Gov. Pat Quinn by next year.

“We need to first devote resources and devote our energy to a very specific place if we’re going to start to combat this issue across the state,” Manar said. “In my mind, the best place to do that is in the high school level first.”

Macon County States Attorney Jay Scott has been with the state’s attorney’s office for the last 25 years, and he said there have been more cases in the area of heroin use among adults.

“I was the drug prosecutor for 10 years out of the drug prosecution unit and you didn’t see [heroin] often, and now we pretty much consistently see it on a regular basis,” Scott said. “I think anything we can do to look at changes and trends in drug usage are probably a benefit.”

Scott did not have any figures on heroin use in Macon County among teenagers, but the Illinois Department of Human Services said it is on the rise statewide.

“The department recognizes that heroin use is a growing concern,” said Januari Smith, a spokeswoman with the Department of Human Services. “We are committed to working with this task force on the issue.”

Last year, the group Monitoring the Future surveyed more than 45,000 students across the country in 8th through 12th grades, and found less than half a percent tried heroin within 12 months, a drop from the year before.

Bruce Suardini heads Prairie Center Health Systems, a network of substance abuse treatment centers serving Champaign, Ford, and Vermilion Counties. Suardini said he is also seeing more adults battling heroin addiction in all three counties, but is not seeing a rise in cases involving teenagers.

However, he said with the closure of his department’s medical detox center a couple of years ago due to state funding cuts, it has become harder to help those people.

“Without a medical detox center here, most of those people who are in need of those kinds of services will then have to report to ER rooms,” Suardini said. “So, there is no medical detox within 85 miles of Champaign-Urbana right now.”

Suardini said he hopes the proposed task force can convince lawmakers to free up money for drug prevention and treatment services.

Sen. Manar said the issue requires careful examination, instead of a "knee-jerk" reaction.

“You know, if there was a way to legislate this, I would have offered a bill and legislate it,” he said. “But I'm no expert on this one, and I think there's a lot of folks that would have a lot of good ideas for this.”

Kent Redfield, a political scientist at the University of Illinois Springfield, said while task forces make recommendations, lawmakers have no obligation to follow them. While task forces can play a useful role from a policy perspective, he said lawmakers do create them to put off making tough decisions, especially if an election is coming up.

"People use them strategically,” Redfield explained. “We're not actually doing something, so there's not a large cost involved."

This legislative session, Illinois lawmakers have proposed creating about two dozen special panels. In addition to high school drug use, these task forces would examine topics ranging from how schools are funded to government transparency.