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Heroin Highway Leads Teenage Lives To Ruin

West Suburban Kids Take Interstate 290 To Buy Drugs On The City's West Side

Jon Duncanson, Chicago Chanel 2 News, May 19, 2006

(CBS) CHICAGO Affluent suburban kids are the new users. You may not think it could happen to your kids.

But as CBS 2’s Jon Duncanson reports, suburban youths are turning on by driving down what might also be called Heroin Highway.

“It takes about 15 minutes from right here,” Kris Pendergrast said.

He is talking about driving down Interstate 290, the Eisenhower Expressway. It is a jet-shot drive where suburban kids can score heroin in the time it takes to say, “How can that be?”

“It was like going through a pharmacy,” a young woman said.

At the end point, as police video shows, there are street deals where heroin is demonstrated to be the poisoned passion for west suburban young people.

“People have an easy access point coming off the expressway there, purchasing illegal drugs, getting back on the expressway, and going back to the suburbs,” said police Deputy Supt. Charles Williams.

Prendergast says it is an easy task for anyone in search of a fix.

“You could be any age and take 290 and go onto the West Side,” Prendergast said. “They don’t card you.”

Prendergast, now 23, was too young to drink when he started heroin at the age of 14 as a student at Addison Trail High School.

He took the heroin highway every day. It was an easy off-ramp for a kid from the suburbs who today is attending a drug rehabilitation program for the eighth time.

“They hold signs – it’s ridiculous – like it’s a car wash or something,” Prendergast said. “(It’s) like, ‘first two are free,’ and once you do those two, obviously, you’re going to want more.”

The heroin is so accessible that in the past five years, Chicago Police have nearly doubled the number of arrests of suburban residents copping their fix.

David Tews, who runs Serenity House, a west suburban live-in treatment facility, sees the other side of that figure.

“I’ve got a wait list of 50 people right now seeking treatment,” Tews said, “a majority of those folks are from Naperville, Wheaton, this area.”

And the reality is that affluent suburban parents rarely realize that heroin sits easily within their child’s grasp.

“We got handed cars when we were 16 years old just for turning 16,” said one young Naperville woman who did not wish to be identified. “Most people didn’t have to have jobs after school, so you’ve just got all this time and all this money and nothing to do.”

For the woman, it was a fall from basketball-playing honor student to Heroin Highway junkie.

She knew her younger sister was using.

“But when I actually saw her physically going down 290 on the shoulder and pull off the same place I was going is when it hit me how bad this is gotten,” she said.

Heroin is cheap and accessible, and it is no longer an inner city problem. Experts are calling out to the suburbs – parents beware.

“People don’t want to talk about it,” Tews said. “(They would say), ‘It’s not our problem. It’s not here.’ It’s frightening because people don’t know how to talk about it.”

Just how serious is the problem? Illinois State Police report the majority of heroin users are, in fact, young adults from the suburbs, and they don’t look like stereotypical strung-out junkies.

Chicago Police say they have made good progress in busting up street sales to kids from the suburbs on the West Side. But they say the other side of that issue is that dealers are increasingly taking Interstate 290 themselves and heading out to the suburbs.