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Sunday, January 29, 2023

The Local Pulse – Recognize opioid crisis


DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin recently released some startling information about hard drug use and possession in the county. Whereas he reported 182 cases of heroin/fentanyl possession in all of 2019, just four months into 2021 his office has already logged 242 cases. As if those numbers are not frightening enough, his office also reported 112 DuPage County opioid deaths in 2020. These statistics should scare every Naperville resident. Whether it is concern for teenage or young adult children, or a need to keep streets safe from drug dealers, Mr. Berlin’s facts don’t lie. Opioids like heroin, fentanyl and cocaine are in our communities. They are widely available, and extremely addictive.

Naperville is a community that values family. We want to know our kids are safe from those who would prey on their innocence or take advantage of their curiosity about drugs. As a community we must all work together to keep our streets clean and safe, and that means working together to address this drug crisis.

Despite the fact that hard drug use and possession is on the rise in our communities, legislation passed in the Illinois House on April 21 that would make possession of certain amounts of these heavy-duty drugs a Class A misdemeanor instead of a felony. Furthermore, the legislation clearly states that multiple misdemeanor charges for possession of opioids cannot result in stiffer penalties. Of the three State Representatives who cover Naperville, only Rep. Amy Grant voted against this legislation.

House Bill 3447, sponsored by Urbana Democrat Carol Ammons, passed in a 61-49 vote. Just think; if all three Naperville State Representatives voted “no,” the bill would have failed, and possession of certain amounts of these heavy-duty drugs would still have felony consequences.

During my years of service on the Naperville City Council and later in the Illinois General Assembly, I have had many conversations with law enforcement professionals about how we address the increase of drug use and availability in our communities. Most say that the biggest deterrent to drug use and abuse is a stiff criminal penalty. Reducing the penalty to a Class A misdemeanor, with no ability for stronger penalties for repeat offenders, does nothing to address the crisis. It does nothing to steer users toward treatment. It only allows drug users to continue to use with no meaningful consequence under the law.

HB 3447 is now in the Senate. If you want to help stop this legislation, I encourage you to call every Illinois Senator and urge them to vote against this atrocious bill.

Grant Wehrli
Grant Wehrli
Grant Wehrli is a lifelong Naperville Resident and former Representative in the Illinois House of Representatives and Naperville City Councilman.