One day three years ago Meghan Murrin was a New Trier High School senior. And she had just died for a few minutes.
Her increasing experimentation with illegal drugs had led her to heroin, and on Oct. 3, 2009, an overdose almost killed her. Her heart stopped beating, but she was brought back to life after three shots of adrenaline, said Murrin, 21, of Northfield.
Murrin was one of the lucky ones. But several north suburban police departments are seeing an increase in heroin use — more arrests, more overdoses, more deaths.
"It's currently more available than it probably has been in a couple decades," said Wilmette Police Chief Brian King, noting the relative cheapness of the drug. "You can get a bag for $10."
King plans to launch a public information campaign aimed at educating parents, as well as youth.
"We don't want a paranoid community; we want an informed community," he said.
On Jan. 9, police officials will host a heroin forum at the Wilmette Public Library, similar to those hosted recently in Glenview and Northbrook.
"We're really trying to put some information out there and encourage parents of young adults to communicate about this heroin dynamic," King said, noting that a police social worker provides confidential referral services to families or users.
Wilmette police recently had two incidents in which people apparently returned from buying heroin, possibly in Chicago, exited the Edens Expressway and pulled into nearby parking lots to inject themselves.
In one case, two Glenview women in their early 20s were arrested in their car behind a Dairy Queen. In the other, a 32-year-old Skokie man was found overdosing on the drug outside his vehicle in the Edens Plaza parking lot.
Numbers show an uptick in the drug's popularity, King said. Through October, there were seven heroin overdose reports, deaths or possession charges in Wilmette. Last year, there were 10. In 2010, there was only one.
Offenders have ranged from 19 to 41 years old, King said.
But sometimes the numbers don't provide the total picture. Sometimes the heroin influence can be more difficult to identify, and show up in other criminal reports. In May, a former Wilmette resident committed several armed robberies in the North Shore village and several surrounding suburbs to support his heroin addiction, King said.
Northfield has anecdotally noticed an increase, though arrest numbers don't necessarily back it up, said Police Chief Bill Lustig.
"I would say we are seeing more of a use in heroin with few arrests," he said, noting the common age for using the drug is between 17 and 19.
Winnetka Deputy Police Chief Joseph Pellus said his community hasn't seen a similar trend. This year, Winnetka has only had one heroin-related possession arrest.
Experts and law enforcement officials say it's an issue that needs to be addressed in suburban communities. According to an August 2012 Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy study, heroin overdose deaths have increased from 2007 to 2011 by 115 percent in Lake County, 100 percent in Will County, and 50 percent in McHenry County.
A similar study conducted by the consortium in 2010 found a 27 percent increase in teens in suburban Cook County discharged from hospitals for heroin use from 2008 to 2009.
One alarming sign is that many younger heroin users report to police that they were unaware that heroin was more dangerous or more addictive than other drugs, King said.
"It doesn't have the stigma that is used to in the past," King said. "People are generally unaware of the dangers that maybe other generations were conscious of."
Murrin first began dabbling with drugs started as a freshman at New Trier High School. She got caught, which subsequently got her kicked off the volleyball team for violating the code of conduct, she said.
That led her more free time to hang out with friends who seemed to also have an interest in trying different drugs, Murrin said.
She did heroin three or four times, by her estimation, until the night her heart stopped. She later sobered up after attending an outpatient treatment clinic and alcoholics anonymous meetings.
Murrin said she's not surprised that heroin is becoming a larger problem in the suburbs, even among North Shore teens.
"Most kids don't have to work," Murrin said. "They get allowances. They don't have to pay for anything. They don't have responsibilities. As long as they get good grades their parents don't ask question."
Her advice for cutting down on the problem is for parents: Keep a watchful eye.
"Sometimes you have to be the bad guy and not let them go out," Murrin said.
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