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Monday, September 30, 2013

The best way to avoid the path of devastation is to steer clear of it all together.

I tell my kids the reason I didn’t do drugs was because I was afraid I might like them.  (I could have told them that the DuPage County Coroner’s office has reported 38 heroin overdose deaths already this year but I’ve learned that statistics don’t resonate very well with kids.) 

Heroin used to be taboo among many recreational drug users because it was injected intravenously with a needle into a vein. The common belief was that anyone who “shoots up” is a “junky”. 

Because human beings are masters at rationalizing their behavior, a growing number of people are now experimenting with heroin because it doesn’t have the stigma of yesterday.

Manufacturers of heroin have since figured out how to refine it with such purity that it can be smoked or snorted, so it doesn’t seem so scary anymore. Not to mention that it’s pretty cheap compared to other popular illegal drugs so even those on a limited income can afford it.     

It is for these very reasons that we are seeing more deaths from heroin overdoses.  Some might call it an “epidemic”.  In order for something to be called an epidemic, there has to be a widespread occurrence so, I think the term is fitting.

The fact that humans are pleasure-seekers by nature makes heroin easy to market.

If I were the CEO in charge Heroin, Inc., I would have my sales team give away free samples because one use is all it takes to develop an addiction.  It’s a derivative of morphine and anyone who has been given the substance in a hospital for pain relief can attest that it makes you feel really groovy.  In fact, I would choose that line as my marketing slogan.

The return on my investment is the addicts I’ve created who will beg, borrow and steal to get their next fix.  Heroin addicts are not born.  They are made---hence my philosophy that I’m terrified I might like it.

I wrote my last column about Drug Rehabilitation Court and I received a lot of responses based on this comment I made:

I still struggle because I believe we arrive at addiction by way of conscious choice.  A reasonable person must suffer the consequences of choosing a path where they know there is a strong likelihood of it ending in destruction.”
Some people felt as though I wasn’t showing compassion for those who have found themselves on the aforementioned path.  One person declared that they didn’t choose the path – it was chosen for them.  Their parents were drug addicts and thus, the path was already paved in stone for them.
I never meant to imply that our circumstances don’t play a colossal role in the course of our future.  Any social scientist with PhD after their name will tell you that the environment to which we are exposed dictates our cultural and social norms.
I will, however, argue that our paths are not paved in permanence.  I had the honor and privilege to be educated about Drug Court Rehabilitation and I am so pleasantly touched by success stories of those who have overcome their addiction to become productive members of society.
Paths can change when we have the courage to be honest and admit we are going in the wrong direction.  If we don’t know we are on the wrong road, I have found that human influence can be the one thing that changes our course.  All it takes is one person to stand at the fork in the road and help us make the turn.  That doesn’t mean that we won’t fall down now and again as long as we keep getting up and moving forward.
Some people will try to lure and entice you down the wrong path. The best way to avoid the path of devastation is to steer clear of it all together. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Finding Empathy in Addiction

Published in the Sun-Times Beacon News on September 15, 2013

In my 22 years at the Aurora Police Department, I have had a front row seat to the devastation and destruction that befalls individuals who have addictions.

Drug abuse can cause once law-abiding citizens to turn to criminal activity in order to support their habits.  I’ve watched people turn to prostitution, theft, robbery and even murder because of the shackles of addiction.

Repeatedly witnessing the pain that abusers caused to others made me less than empathic to the struggles of addicts.  Because our view of the world is shaped by the lens we wear in our own life, my personal experiences caused me to lack compassion. 

When I became the Commander of the Investigations Bureau, I assumed responsibility to approve or deny Drug Rehabilitation Court for those who enter into the criminal justice system.

Drug Rehabilitation Court handles cases involving non-violent, drug using offenders, who agree to an intensive supervision and treatment program. The Court brings the full weight of all interveners (e.g. the Judge, Probation Officers, Law Enforcement Officers, Prosecutors, Defense Attorneys, Treatment Specialists and other social service personnel) to bear, forcing the offender to deal with his or her substance abuse problem or suffer severe consequences.

The process begins when a person is arrested for a crime.  They then have an opportunity to apply for drug court if they are claiming an addiction. 

The cases I received at first glance were easy because I was determined to deny anyone that had a criminal offense other than possessing a drug.  I decided that anyone who committed a crime and blamed it on addiction was not worthy of the program.

I was reading through the police reports associated with one of applicants and noted that he was arrested for burglary.  I was about to give the stamp of denial until I looked closer and saw that the burglary victims were the offender’s parents.  I picked up the phone and dialed their number because I had this overwhelming need to hear their story. 

I spent 45 minutes on the phone with the couple who took turns telling me stories about their adult son and how his heroin addiction unraveled their lives.  They appeared to be loving parents who had to contend with a son who made a wrong choice.

They tried reasoning with him.  They tried putting him in rehab on numerous occasions only to watch him relapse over and over.  When he lost his job and his family, they took him in.  Then they started feeling scared by the other addicts he would bring home and they ultimately made the decision to kick him out.

Every night they went to bed wondering where he was sleeping or if he was even alive.  As if that weren’t painful enough, they were burglarized and learned it was their own son who had broken into their home.  He stole their possessions so he could sell or trade them for more drugs and they were faced with the most difficult decision of their lives – to press criminal charges against their own child.

The application for drug court was no longer a piece of paper.  A real life jumped from the words strung together in the police report and caused me to change my lens and my judgment.

I still struggle because I believe we arrive at addiction by way of conscious choice.  A reasonable person must suffer the consequences of choosing a path where they know there is a strong likelihood of it ending in destruction.

But I have come to understand that it is not for me to withhold compassion or empathy.  It is not only my job to ensure that justice is served, but to also to help those who are lost; find a new and better path.

For more information on Drug Rehabilitation Court, visit and click on the General Information tab at the top of the page.