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It will take whole community to beat the scourge of heroin

Naperville Police Community Affairs officer Sgt. Gregg Bell show small anount heroThursday Naperville Police Station. | Steven Buyansky~Sun-Times Media

Naperville Police Community Affairs officer Sgt. Gregg Bell show a small anount of heroin Thursday at the Naperville Police Station. | Steven Buyansky~Sun-Times Media

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Drug forums

The “Danger in our Backyard” drug forum will take place at 6 p.m. Thursday at Oswego High School, 4250 State Highway 71.

“Heroin In Our Community: Manda’s Story” will be held at 6:30 p.m. May 2 in Elgin High School.

Updated: May 24, 2013 6:22AM

When Robin, struggling to conceive, found out she was pregnant that Christmas Eve of 1990, she dubbed this child later named Matt as “my miracle baby.” It was a story she shared with Aurora Beacon-News readers — mother and son were even pictured on the front page — in the Christmas Memories edition a few years after Matt’s birth.

That was back in 1995 — years before he took his first hit of heroin and turned into a hard-core addict.

The Oswego mom still calls Matt her miracle child. After all, he has survived three drug overdoses. The latest near-death episode was on Thanksgiving.

These last couple years have sent their normal happy family into a tailspin. But Robin, struggling through tears as she speaks, insists she fought hard for Matt to come into this world and she’s going to fight even harder to keep him in it.

While she decided against using their last name for this story for the sake of her other two children, Robin does not hesitate to talk to anyone about this most personal battle. This is not a dark family secret but a community-wide plague. That’s why she’s been instrumental in working with state Rep. Tom Cross and the Oswego Police Department in pulling together this week’s forum, “Danger in our Backyard,” about the real risks heroin and other drugs pose to all our communities.

The free public forum, also sponsored by state Rep. Kay Hatcher, will take place at 6 p.m. Thursday at Oswego High School.

In Elgin, meanwhile, the Elgin Gang and Drug Task Force is inviting community residents, business professionals, educators and students to attend “Heroin In Our Community: Manda’s Story.” The program, aimed at heightening awareness and helping put an end to this growing epidemic, is set for 6:30 p.m. May 2 at Elgin High School.

Attendees at the Elgin event will hear firsthand from Dr. Mann Spitler as he recounts his daughter’s tale of heroin addiction. Spitler also will offer specific actions parents can take to help protect their children.

Although she won’t be speaking at the Oswego event Thursday, Robin will be in the audience, as will Matt, who is now undergoing treatment at a methadone clinic to try and beat the demon that continues to threaten his life.

Over the past few years writing about heroin, I’ve had the chance to talk to many parents like Robin who have been sucker-punched by this drug. Hers is yet another cautionary tale to all who think their children are immune. Matt was, and still is, she insists, a “great kid,” full of humor, compassion and love. He’d never been a problem before taking that first hit of heroin, she adds. He was a shy but happy kid, taking part in Cub Scouts, band, baseball and soccer. She and her husband were involved parents who watched their kids like hawks and talked to them incessantly about the dangers of drugs.

It didn’t matter.

Robin and her husband were on vacation with another couple in December 2011 when she was told by the other mother that Matt’s new friend was a heroin addict — and that Matt was probably using, too. Stunned, in partial denial, they rushed home and confronted their son. They talked to him, watched him closely, searched his room continually.

“We thought,” she said, “that we had it under control.”

Until Matt overdosed six months later.

“I hear it all the time. ‘I’m so glad my kid would never do heroin,’ ” says Robin. “People underestimate the power of this drug.”

Which is why she wants a good turnout at Thursday’s forum. In addition to representatives from the high school and Edward Hospital in Naperville, also speaking will be John Roberts, a retired Chicago police captain who co-founded Heroin Epidemic Relief Organization (HERO) after his son died from an overdose in 2010; former addict Bill Patrianakos; and Oswego police Sgt. Brad Delphey, who says it will take “all hands on deck” to fight this problem.

“We need to bring every resource to bear,” Delphey said. “We need to be a united front.”

While Delphey couldn’t say if police were seeing more drug use in the community, he did report that response teams were answering more calls on overdoses. Officers are also seeing more dealers as users, and more users as dealers trying to pay for their habits.

That doesn’t surprise Robin. Matt used to go into the city to get his drugs. Now, says his mom, the dealers are all over town. One dealer even knocked on her front door in the middle of the night, Robin added, looking to sell her son more heroin.

Matt, who like so many addicts is working his way through myriad legal issues, has been clean since November. And Robin describes herself as “hopeful but very cautious.” But one thing not in doubt is her passion to get the word out about this “evil enemy.”

Also not in question: Her love for this “miracle child.”

“Matt’s friends have given up on him … so has society,” she says. “I’m the only thing left in his corner. And I’m going to win.”

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