McDonough County Sheriff Rick VanBrooker said his office is working to prevent heroin from becoming as large of a problem as meth in the late 1990s.
“I consider the heroin issue controllable at this point,” said VanBrooker. “Right now I’d put both meth and heroin around a four or five (on a scale of one to ten, with ten being worst).”
He feels meth was a ten in the late ‘90s. “I felt like law enforcement got overran during that time period,” he said.
VanBrooker said federal assistance helped bring the meth problem under control and it’s helping stem the sale of heroin, which he called “an emerging problem” in the county.
VanBrooker said there will be more arrests and federal indictments from an investigation into heroin dealing called “Operation Three Strikes.” So far it’s netted the arrests of two people in Macomb: Michael C. Russell, age 33, and Robin L. Myers, age 50.
They have each been charged in U.S. District Court with Conspiracy to Distribute Heroin 50-250 grams. The sheriff said Russell and Myers were the focus of a countywide heroin distribution ring when they were arrested in mid-May.
In addition, VanBrooker said 12 grams of heroin packaged for delivery, several hypodermic needles, and other heroin paraphernalia were seized from another house in Macomb in early June.
VanBrooker credited cooperation between various law enforcement agencies with aiding the investigation.
“We all work together. All the information comes into a central hub,” he said. “Everybody realizes the important of gathering the intelligence. We’re aggressive in that area. We have people that work very hard in that area, spend a lot of time doing the investigations.”
Alarming Number of Fatal Overdoses
VanBrooker said heroin is particularly dangerous because the purity of the opiate varies greatly. He said there have been overdoses in larger communities when someone uses heroin that’s more pure – and thus stronger – than what they’re accustomed to taking.
One Illinois resident who became hooked on heroin – and who overdosed numerous times -- was Aaron Brown of Rockford.
Northern Public Radio’s Mike Moen interviewed Brown a few years ago. At that time Brown had been sober for several months and expressed hope about staying clean.
Brown was candid about his struggles with addiction, and he ultimately was unable to overcome them. The Winnebago County Coroner's Office said he died from an overdose on January 1, 2014.
Since then, state lawmakers have created a heroin prevention task force to look into what’s been declared a crisis in the state. The group was scheduled to complete its report by June 30 but is asking for more time.
One task force member said the goal is to bolster educational programs about the dangers of heroin use.
Thanks to Mike Moen of Northern Public Radio in DeKalb for contributions to this story.