By Ann Piccininni
Daily Herald Correspondent

Stress can be a real killer, especially when stressed-out people turn to the wrong channels to relieve it.

The growing problem of drug abuse and addiction will be discussed Wednesday, Dec. 13, when the Naperville nonprofit group KidsMatter works with the Naperville Police Department to present a program aimed at helping teens and their parents head off or recover from drug addiction.

“The Cop and the Convict” will feature 27-year Naperville police veteran Rich Wistocki and former drug addict and ex-convict Tim Ryan presenting insight into the problem and offering audience members a chance to ask questions.

“For the last four years, we’ve done programs with Detective Wistocki. We’re trying to educate the parents and kids together,” said Bridget Hatch, KidsMatter marketing and events director. “We try to prevent kids from making poor choices by giving them positive alternatives.”

“Tim Ryan and I have been doing this event for the past year across Illinois,” Wistocki said. “It used to be called ‘Dare to Know.'”

Wistocki said they let parents in on the latest ways kids use their cellphones and internet applications to make drug connections. He also talks about how teens cleverly camouflage apps so they appear innocuous to the casual observer. And the two presenters will talk about how kids access things like the Darknet to buy drugs.

Wistocki said prescription opioids are the drugs most often abused in the Western suburbs. Heroin is also a frequently abused drug, he said.

“The average age of kids who smoke weed is sixth grade. That’s when they start. Not every kid who smokes weed becomes a heroin addict,” he said. “Every heroin addict started with weed.”

Naperville Deputy Police Chief Jason Arres said the police department agreed to present this program in conjunction with KidsMatter because the problem is so pervasive and so deadly.

“Tim and Rich do a fantastic job,” he said.

Arres said that as of Nov. 8, there had been 29 heroin overdoses and five heroin deaths in 2017 in Naperville. The average age of a person experiencing a heroin overdose this year was 29, he said.

“The big misnomer is it’s just kids. There are adults who struggle with prescription drugs, opiates and heroin derivatives,” Arres said. “I think we focus a lot on kids. We’re trying to mold them into making better decisions.”

Heroin overdoses in 2014 totaled 22; in 2015 and 2016 there were 18 overdoses each year. There were two heroin deaths in 2014, four in 2015 and eight in 2016.

This year, he said, there have been 56 prescription drug overdoses and no fatalities. Five people died of a prescription drug overdose in 2016 and one died in 2015.

Of the 23 times this year that drug users were saved from overdoses after receiving a dose of narcan, an overdose antidote administered by either police or fire personnel, 22 were for heroin overdoses. The remaining overdose involved opiates, he said.

Wistocki said he and Ryan will tell parents how they can use in-home kits, available for free at the event, to test their children for drug use.

“If they think their kid is using, they can use the kit we gave them. It tests for seven drugs,” Wistocki said.

When kids are taking drugs, Wistocki said, parents often have a sneaking suspicion that something is amiss.

“A mother’s intuition is the strongest sign we depend upon to keep these kids safe,” he said.

Sometimes indications of drug use can be confusing to parents who aren’t familiar with the telltale signs.

“We give them (lessons in) the paraphernalia of the trade,” Wistocki said.

Wistocki said he and Ryan joined forces after Ryan approached him about forming a partnership to battle drug addiction.

A former drug addict who lost his own son to a drug overdose, Ryan gives presentations and runs the A Man in Recovery Foundation. His efforts are aimed at education and prevention. His story was profiled on the A&E channel in July.

Wistocki said mostly parents attend the presentations, but a fair amount of teens also attend. Some teens are there looking for information on how to deal with drug-addicted parents, he said.

“We get a lot of people in recovery that come, too,” he said.