Forum in Lincolnwood focuses on drug use in suburbs
Lisa Bloom (left), outreach coordinator of Gateway Foundation Alcohol and Drug Treatment, and Karin Wick, student assistant program coordinator at Niles West High School, participate in an Oct. 23 presentation on drug use amongst teens. | Natasha Wasinski
Updated: December 2, 2012 6:13AM
LINCOLNWOOD — Teens chattering about “blueberries,” “French fries,” and “strawberry Quick” may not be referring to items found in a grocery store.
“These terms are very friendly but our kids are talking about drugs,” said Lisa Bloom, outreach coordinator of Gateway Foundation Alcohol and Drug Treatment, the state’s largest provider of substance-abuse treatment services.
Recognizing that drugs have not left Chicago’s suburbs unscathed, the Village of Lincolnwood hosted a presentation Oct. 23 focused on usage trends amongst youth.
Though Niles Township High School 219 students are using alcohol and drugs at rates lower than national averages, their use of prescription drugs is higher, said Karin Wick, student assistant program coordinator at Niles West.
Skokie Police Officer Elizabeth Ronderos, who serves as a school-resource officer, said in recent years she’s heard of junior high students hosting “Skittles parties” where kids put prescription medications into a bowl and then pick a pill to pop.
Painkillers and prescription drugs are being abused at record levels nationwide, partly due to easy access.
In addition to the danger of overdosing from taking and mixing medication, prescription-drug abusers are at risk for developing other addictive habits. Cocaine, opiate pills and poly-drug use have been identified as pathways to heroin, Bloom said.
According to a 2010 study by Roosevelt University’s Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy, Chicago ranks No. 1 in the nation for the prevalence of heroin use and its associated problems.
Hospital data shows 67 percent fewer discharges for heroin use among Chicagoans aged 20 to 24 from 1998 to 2007. During the same period, discharges more than tripled in the collar counties.
Interstate 290 has been coined “heroin highway” for those driving from northwest suburbs to Chicago’s West site to buy drugs.
Bloom said youth are also finding more ways to get high compared to past generations, such as bath salts and synthetic marijuana. Until state ban went into effect in January 2011, synthetic marijuana was sold at various shops.
Bloom said anxiety and addiction go hand in hand, especially for those unable to express their feelings. Children who are stressed or uncomfortable in their own skin may turn to drugs.
“As parents and as loved ones, we kind of miss the signs that our kids are struggling,” Bloom said.
In her work as the village social worker for Lincolnwood, Geri Silic has encountered children experiencing anxiety about failing. Well-meaning parents pushing extracurricular activities and academics may not be aware of how overwhelmed their children are feeling.
Participants identified communication as key to preventing and addressing teen drug and alcohol use.
Bloom said children typically do not voluntarily divulge problems, and she encouraged parents and professionals to ask questions and show empathy.
Wick said she didn’t have the answer to stopping drug use, but knows the first steps.
“I think we need to start at home and talk to our kids,” she said.