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A mix of law enforcement officials and drug abuse experts hope the shock treatment in an upcoming program in Granite City will awaken the community to the scourge of heroin abuse.

The program at 7 p.m. Feb. 1 at Granite City High School will be the third in a series of panel discussion and video presentations on the issue.

"It's a pretty impressive forum," said Ron Stern, director of secondary education for the Granite City School District. "It is necessary to get this information out. It's very timely."

The program grew out of the Project DrugSmart antidrug effort in the Edwardsville School District. It's attracted hundreds of people in Edwardsville, Collinsville and Alton, said Madison County Coroner Stephen Nonn, one of the panelists in the program.

In Madison County, Nonn said, the number of deaths from heroin overdoses has increased from five in 2008 to 26 last year.

"You've got families that have lost daughters and sons," Nonn said. "This runs across all social strata. There's nobody that's immune to this."

Users become addicted the first time they use the drug, Nonn said. "You can use this drug one time and fatally overdose on it," he said. "We had to do something aggressive to educate the community that this is a problem."

Panelists will include Nonn, Granite City Police Chief Richard Miller, Madison County State's Attorney Tom Gibbons, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois Stephen Wigginton and U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agent Kevin Merkel.

Others are Susan Taylor and Donna Nahlik of Chestnut Health System and Dana Bohnenstiehl of the Gateway Foundation Drug and Alcohol Treatment. A recovering heroin addict may also speak.

Moderator Steve Jankowski, a former reporter for KSDK, produced two videos that will be shown at the program.

Before he made the videos, "I was not aware of the fact that heroin was such a problem with this region," said Jankowski, director of alumni affairs at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

Contact reporter Jim Merkel at 618-344-0264, ext. 138

If you go

What: Forum on heroin use

When: Wednesday, Feb. 1, 7 p.m.

Where: Granite City High School, 3101 Madison Ave., Granite City

Panelists:

• Richard Miller, Granite City police chief

• Tom Gibbons, Madison County state's attorney

• Stephen Nonn, Madison County coroner

• Stephen Wigginton, U.S. Attorney for the Illinois Southern District

• Kevin Merkel, DEA agent

• Susan Taylor, director of adult substance abuse, Chestnut Health Systems

• Donna Nahlik, prevention specialist, Chestnut Health Systems

• Dana Bohnenstiehl, community outreach coordinator, Gateway Foundation Drug and Alcohol Treatment

• Moderator: Steve Jankowski, director of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville alumni affairs

More online

To see information on Project DrugSmart and two videos being shown at the Feb. 1 forum on heroin use, go to suburbanjournals.stltoday.com