CHICAGO (CBS) — Law enforcement officials say the Chicago area is among many regions of the U.S. where the heroin problem seems to getting worse among school age youngsters.

As WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Conway reports, a Chicago Sun-Times says it all frequently starts with young people abusing pain killers such as OxyContin and graduates to full blown heroin addiction.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Conway reports

And this isn’t just happening in the inner city. Police tell the Sun-Times that the suburbs are rife with heroin addicts and that the number of overdoses – sometimes fatal – continues to increase in many of them.

The suburban heroin epidemic has been making grim headlines for years. Back in May 2006, CBS 2 correspondent Jon Duncanson reported that the Eisenhower Expressway had been dubbed the Heroin Highway – a jet shot drive where suburban kids could score the drug in the time it takes to say, “How can that be?”

“It’s was like going through a drive-up pharmacy,” one teenage girl addict said in 2006.

“You could be any age and take 290 and go onto the West Side,” a boy addict said in 2006. “They don’t card you.”
Kris Pendergrast, 23, told Duncanson that he was too young to drink when he started heroin as a 14-year-old student at Addison Trail High School. He took the heroin highway every day – an easy off-ramp for a kid from the suburbs who by 2006 was on his eighth drug rehab.

“They’ll hold signs like it’s ridiculous, like it’s a carwash or something,” Pendergrast said in 2006, “like, ‘first two are free,’ and once you do those two, obviously you’re going to want more.”

Between 2001 and 2006, Chicago Police nearly doubled the number of suburban residents copping their fix. But in the time since, the problem does not seem to have abated, the Sun-Times reports.

Since January 2011 in Naperville, seven people have died after overdosing on the drug known as “dragon,” while 30 fatally overdosed in Will County last year, and seven in Kane County, the Sun-Times reported. In Lake County, there was a 130 percent increase in heroin-related deaths between 2000 and 2009, the Sun-Times reported.

In the city of Chicago, hospital discharges for heroin users ages 20 to 24 dropped 67 percent between 1998 and 2007, but that figure saw a 200 percent increase in the collar counties, the Sun-Times reported.

The newspaper reports an increase in buyers from the suburbs could be part of the reason federal agents seized more heroin in Chicago than ever before in 2011.

Also, investigators point out the heroin now is more powerful and doesn’t have to be injected; it can be smoked or inhaled, the Sun-Times reports.

Part of the solution, they tell the Sun-Times, are better drug education programs in the schools.