Fire District puzzled by Orland Mayor’s criticism of fighting drug abuse
Orland Fire District rebuffs criticism from Orland Park Mayor McLaughlin and urges government agencies to work together to fight rising drug use
The Orland Fire Prevention District is puzzled and surprised that Orland Park Mayor Dan McLaughlin would criticize the Fire District for hosting a program to raise awareness among parents about drug and substance abuse in the suburban region.
The program was held on Tuesday night (July 15) and has been hosted annually for the past four years. It was widely publicized, showcasing student role models and parents whose children and families have experienced the tragedy of drugs and substance abuse.
McLaughlin issued a press release Friday that falsely accused the Fire District of disseminating “inaccurate information” about drug use. It implies there is no heroin or substance abuse problem in Orland Park or the immediate suburbs and contradicts public statements made only four weeks earlier by Orland Park Police Chief Tim McCarthy.
“We are deeply disappointed McLaughlin would issue his criticism without even contacting us to discuss the issue, or even attending the event which was widely publicized in the media,” Orland Fire Protection District President Jim Hickey said.
“The mayor’s press release was filled with inaccurate and irresponsible statements. I am deeply disappointed when public officials show more concern for their public images rather than for the safety and well-being of our citizens.”
Hickey said the information disseminated at the Fire District’s public meeting was accurate and correctly defined the threat of heroin and substance abuse as serious concerns that must be addressed by an educated community.
“It would be shameful to believe public officials would bury their heads in the sand and pretend there is no drug abuse problem in our region. The data shows a frightening increase in heroin and opiate abuse in this region and it needs to be addressed,” Hickey said. “That’s the only conclusion I can make from the mayor’s actions.”
Hickey said McLaughlin overreacted to a newspaper article which may have unfairly characterized the school district as being unresponsive, but the fact is there hasn’t been a concerted effort to address the rising drug problems.
“Drug use isn’t a problem that plagues ‘bad neighborhoods’ or ‘poor communities.’ It’s a problem everywhere and responsible public officials should do everything they can to educate and inform the public. That’s what the Fire District has and will continue to do,” Hickey said.
The Fire District is more than willing to meet with Mayor McLaughlin, Police Supt. McCarthy and officials from the local schools, Hickey said, to work together and develop a unified stand against drug abuse in a more appropriate manner rather than through public criticism from officials who didn’t even attend the meeting.
The Fire District program was not funded by taxpayer dollars and was conducted by volunteers who included three current and former Sandburg students, Michael Schofield, who was drafted by the Denver Broncos, Olympic Ice Hockey Silver Medalist Kendall Coyne, and Patrick Brucki a current Sandburg student athlete. The three students reached out to the more than 100 parents and students who attended the two hour long seminar.
Their message was clear: “Drugs are not fun. They are dangerous. And students must resist the temptation to hang around other kinds who are using drugs.”
The meeting included the experiences of two parents whose children were involved in drugs and substance abuse, including the father of a high school senior who died of heroin use. They related how their children made the “wrong choices,” destroying their lives and their families. Tami O’Brien and Brian Kirk represented the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists (AAIM) and The Hero Foundation.
The program, cohosted by In the Blink of an Eye Foundation headed by OFPD Battalion Chief Michael Schofield, was widely publicized for six weeks. It attracted many community leaders including Cook County Commissioner Liz Gorman, and Village of Orland Park Trustee Dan Calandriello.
The information reflected firsthand data as experienced by emergency medical personnel and first responders from the Fire District.
“Firefighters are oftentimes the first people at the scene of a drug or substance abuse incident. We are called to save their lives,” said Fire Chief Ken Brucki.
“Helping parents understand what is involved and what can be done can help save more lives. That’s why we continue to host this program and will host it again next year.”
Data clearly shows an alarming increase in heroin use in Orland Park, in the Fire District, and in the suburban region.
During the presentation, Brucki said he spoke about drug use among elementary school children “throughout the region,” not specifically or just in School District 135 or with respect to the local schools.
“At no time did we criticize the Village, the Police or the school districts. We noted the drug problem is growing not just in Orland Park but in neighboring suburban communities,” Brucki said.
Brucki cited an article in the local media on Friday July 18th that highlighted the success of the HELPS program started in Will County which has created "a phenomenal downturn in heroin related deaths" and which works to combine efforts from various branches of community leadership.
“We have most recently had a great relationship with the leadership of local school districts, including District 135, on education and prevention and we want that to continue,” Brucki said.
Hickey said that last month, Police Supt. McCarthy told local media that heroin use was a problem. He announced police will carry Narcan (Naxalon) in their vehicles to respond to drug abuse issues. Narcan can reverse the effects of opiate and heroin overdoses.
McCarthy’ was quoted as saying he “first noticed” an increase in heroin use in 2009, noting last year “Orland Park had 13 drug overdoses and six deaths, including five that involved heroin.” This year, McCarthy said, the department has seen eight overdoses and one death.
Hickey said McCarthy’s observations only reinforce the need to bring government officials together to address this growing problem.
Orland Park is only one community in the Orland Fire Protection District, which serves 75,000 residents in 33 square miles, including in Orland Hills and areas of unincorporated Orland Township.
The Fire District released the following incident report which shows a steady increase in heroin and opiate use since 2009. The figures do not include substance abuse incidents where Narcan was not administered.
“The incidents involved patients who displayed extreme drug seizures, were visibly unconscious, or were facing an extreme danger to life, such as experiencing a Heroin or opiate-like overdose,” Hickey said.
2009: administered Narcan 47 times, with 22 positive results.
2010: administered Narcan 49 times, with 23 positive results.
2011: administered Narcan 49 times, with 33 positive results.
2012: administered Narcan 63 times, with 32 positive results.
2013: administered Narcan 59 times, with 30 positive results.
(Photos courtesy of the Orland Fire Protection District.)