For many communities, the extent of heroin addiction comes as a shock. Yet efforts to confront it, including town-hall meetings and support groups, are slowly gaining ground.
For years, heroin was considered an affliction mainly of poor urban neighborhoods. But these days, the drug is becoming popular in affluent suburbs, small cities, and even rural towns – especially among young people.
“You would have to go pretty remote to find a place that didn’t have this,” says Kathleen Kane-Willis, a researcher at Roosevelt University in Chicago who has tracked heroin use since 2004. “It’s just everywhere.”
But for communities and in particular parents, the problem can come as a total surprise.
Take Tamara Olt and her husband, who were vacationing in Mexico last April when they got the call that every parent dreads. One of their sons was lying unconscious in his basement room at the family’s home in Dunlap, a small town in central Illinois.
Joshua Olt died in the emergency room that evening. He was 16.
“Heroin was the biggest shock of my life,” says Dr. Olt, an obstetrician and gynecologist. “The drug had never crossed my mind.”
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