January 25, 2005
The Roosevelt University Drug
report released during seminar at the
Porter County Sheriff's Department.
dramatic rise in heroin use
Commissioned study focuses on Porter County
BY KEN KOSKY
This story ran on
nwitimes.com on Tuesday, January 25, 2005 12:30 AM CST
VALPARAISO | The heroin-related death
rate in Porter County in 2002 ranked among the top 10 in the nation
when compared to major metropolitan areas, according to a study
being released today.
The rate of heroin-related emergency room visits by 18- to
25-year-olds ranked third in the nation, behind only Baltimore and
Philadelphia metropolitan areas, the study showed.
Commissioned by Porter-Starke Services
and the Community Action Drug Coalition in Porter County, the study
prepared by Roosevelt University in Chicago states the
heroin-related death rate in Porter County for people of all ages
was 10th in the nation on a per capita basis during 2002. Places
such as the New Orleans, Baltimore and Las Vegas metropolitan areas
ranked higher, but Porter County outpaced death rates in areas such
as New York, Boston and Chicago.
"It doesn't surprise me," said 25-year-old Justin Conover, of
Valparaiso, who is in Porter County Jail because of a heroin-related
Conover said he knows more than 20 people who have died of
overdoses, AIDS and murder because of heroin.
The study was commissioned in order to seek grant money to combat
While the actual number of deaths fall far behind these metropolitan
areas, the rankings were calculated based on the number of deaths
per 100,000 residents. Porter County has a population of about
152,500 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
"I knew we had a significant problem, but when we got compared
nationwide, it astounded me," said Valparaiso physician Mann Spitler,
whose daughter died of a heroin overdose in March 2002 and is active
with the coalition. "I felt that the report verified a gut feeling I
had about the pervasiveness of the problem."
"Things are just getting worse for us here. ... I've been saying
that for a long time," added Porter County Drug Task Force
Coordinator Robert Taylor.
"Once again, I think we need to start looking at drug courts ...
looking at education programs starting in the fourth grade and
looking at (increasing options for) rehabilitation."
The Roosevelt University report makes similar recommendations. The
report will be released in its entirety during a seminar from 8 a.m.
to noon today at the Porter County Sheriff's Department.
Kathleen Kane-Willis, assistant director of Roosevelt University's
Institute for Metropolitan Affairs, said the study's results
shouldn't cause alarm or fear, but rather should be used to
re-examine drug education and policy.
"If you don't address the problem quickly, it will spread quickly
and for a long time," Kane-Willis said.
Conover agreed, saying "a few people found a lot of joy in it and
spread it to other people."
Although Roosevelt was paid $2,000 to conduct the study, Kane-Willis
said it ended up costing $10,000 to do -- a cost that was not passed
along to the Porter County organizations. Although the numbers were
not adjusted for population growth in Porter County and the Porter
County data came from different sources than the national data,
Kane-Willis believes the study's results are still valid.
According to the Roosevelt University study:
-- 18 people died of drug-related causes in Porter County in 2003,
compared to 15 in 2002 and eight in 2001.
-- Arrests for heroin-related crimes in Porter County increased from
10 in 2002 to 84 in 2004. At the same time, the number of Porter
County residents arrested for heroin use in Chicago's Cook County
also rose sharply, suggesting they were traveling to urban areas to
-- Monthly use of heroin by students in grades eight through 12
increased more than 700 percent in Indiana between 1993 and 2004.
-- Porter County had nearly four times as many drug deaths as Marion
County (Indianapolis) in 2002.
Kane-Willis said the study suggests the affluence of Porter County
means youth have money available to spend on drugs, and the report
suggests the proximity to urban areas such as Chicago makes drugs
easy to obtain. She said Porter County is an example of the
"emerging drug trend" across the country -- heroin usage increasing
because the drug is cheap and because drug educators have failed to
impress upon youth how much more dangerous heroin is than marijuana.
Spitler once asked his daughter why she tried heroin and she said,
"I thought it would be fun."
"They're gravely mistaken and they learn that very quickly,"
Kane-Willis said there is hope for Porter County. She said the focus
groups with youth show the "Truth" advertisements, which try to
steer teens away from cigarettes by giving them the truth, are more
effective than advertisements linking drug usage and terrorism. She
believes it is possible to stem the tide of heroin usage in Porter
Conover, who has spent half his adult life behind bars because of
heroin, hopes the next group of youth don't follow his footsteps.
"I never thought it could happen to me, but it did," Conover said.
"I didn't listen to what people told me, but I wish people could
learn from my mistakes."
Spitler, who does anti-drug presentations for schools and
organizations, frequently talks about drug addiction being a "beast"
that gains strength when shrouded in secrecy.
"This report puts an end to a lot of that secrecy ... about how many
lives it claims and affects," Spitler said.
"Hopefully, this will weaken the beast in some way if we, as a
community, can come together and have a coordinated effort to change
our perspectives and thought processes, and take some definitive
County swamped by heroin
By Jon Seidel
/ Post-Tribune staff writer Jan 25, 2005
Porter County’s rate of emergency room
visits related to heroin usage ranks third in the nation. Only
Philadelphia and Baltimore ranked worse.
Porter County’s rate of
heroin-related deaths is among the country’s top 10 — outpacing
cities including New York, Seattle and Chicago.
About nine of every 100,000
Porter County residents die yearly due to the drug.
These findings from a new study
will be discussed today in a morning conference specifically
dealing with the heroin problem.
In a region where the mention of
a national crime ranking is synonymous with Gary and its
notorious murder rate, the news is startling. One official
called it sobering.
Heroin has a grip on Porter
But people like Rodney Sass, the
executive director of the Moraine House, might not be surprised.
The Moraine House was originally
founded in Valparaiso to help alcohol addicts. But by about
2000, it became harder to ignore the drug addicts coming there
for help. Seventy percent of his current residents are trying to
get away from drugs, Sass said. At least 30 percent of those are
“It used to be nothing in this
area,” Sass said.
More treatment facilities like
Moraine are among the suggestions in the report.
According to the report, in a per
capita compilation, Porter County’s rate of emergency room
mentions of heroin by 18- to 25-year-olds in 2002 was 219. In
Philadelphia, that rate was 248; it was 275 in Baltimore.
The heroin-death rate in Porter
County during 2002 was 9.17 per 100,000 residents, 10th in the
nation behind places like New Orleans, Baltimore and Las Vegas.
The lead researcher of the
report, Kathleen Kane-Willis of Roosevelt University’s Institute
for Metropolitan Affairs, gathered the information for her
report from Porter County law enforcement and hospital data.
Sass says the information
Kane-Willis found fits the description of what he has seen.
“I was amazed at how young and
how many I ran across last summer,” Sass said.
The report also found that
arrests in Porter County for heroin-related crimes increased by
more than 700 percent between 2002 and 2004 — from 10 arrests to
According to Kane-Willis’
research, while the drug usage is in Porter County, the actual
purchasing takes place elsewhere. Youths here are making
contacts that will go into downtown Chicago for them and
purchase heroin for a cheap price.
“It’s cheaper than a six-pack,”
That’s something Rocco Schiralli,
president of the Porter County Community Action Drug Coalition,
feels like he already knew. His organization commissioned the
Roosevelt report after a series of heroin-related deaths
involving youths in the area.
“It kind of just verifies what
your experience tells you,” Schiralli said.
The CADC contacted Kane-Willis
because of a study she had done on heroin use in the Chicago
“I knew that the problem in the
suburbs was more intense than it was in the city,” Kane-Willis
said. “I think the problem in Porter County is more extreme than
in the Chicago suburbs.”
While the idea that heroin has
found its way into Porter County is not new, most leaders agreed
the comparisons to other cities were surprising.
“The report is sobering,”
Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas said. “Our children need to
understand heroin use is virtually a self-imposed death
Costas and Schiralli hope this
report will get the community to prevent heroin addiction from
“It’s a problem for the entire
community to take ownership of,” Costas said. “We all need to be
part of the solution.”
In her report, Kane-Willis gives
about 10 recommendations for solving Porter County’s heroin
problem. Most revolve around education.
“Really teaching kids what the
different harms are associated with each drug,” Kane-Willis
said. “We don’t want to teach kids that all drugs are the same.”
Kane-Willis said some drug
prevention programs, such as Just Say No and D.A.R.E. have been
found to be completely ineffective.
“Kids don’t just say no,”
But programs that have involved
input from youths, such as the TRUTH advertising campaign
against cigarettes, have been found to get kids’ attention.
“That’s the same kind of thing
you have to do with drug education,” Kane-Willis said.
But most people, including Sass,
know it won’t be easy to keep kids away.
“All it takes is that one bad
acquaintance,” Sass said. “All that education is bogus in their
The seminar, “A Multiple
Indicator Analysis of Heroin Use in Northwest Indiana,” begins
at 8 a.m. today at the Porter County Jail.