The numbers are staggering: Three deaths in Perry County from heroin last year, seven deaths in the past three years. It gets worse as you go east. Sixty-seven deaths in Madison County. Thirty-one deaths in St. Clair County. Five deaths in places like O’Fallon. Fifteen deaths in places like Effingham.
For Wendy Sharkin of O’Fallon, who spoke to Du Quoin and Pinckneyville High School students about heroin addiction, the problem is personal. Her daughter Rachel had been on pain medication for a medical problem. A fellow student told her heroin —an opiate in the same family as morphine, codeine, merperidine, hydrocodone (Lortab, Vicodin) and oxycodone was cheaper and easily available. There were no signs Rachel was addicted until her parents found her dead in bed with a spoon and a syringe nearby. Wendy has gone on tour with U.S. Attorney Stephen Wigginton and others to talk about heroin addiction. She has spoken to heroin addicts who told her, “The only time I wanted to use was the first time. After that I didn’t have a choice.”
Wigginton and Mike Shah, drug enforcement administration analyst joined local law enforcement officials, mayors and school officials during the hour-long forums.
Wigginton blamed parents, in part, for the problem. “Our parents have made us a nation of pain medication.” He said there were 278 million prescriptions written for pain medication last year in a country with a population of 314 million, almost one prescription for every American.
He said some of the heroin his office has taken in as evidence is 89 percent pure. “The first dose is lethal.” With lesser grades “one snort and you are hooked.” He closed by telling students, “We’re getting in front of the heroin problem.
That’s why we are going all over Southern Illinois.”