As local kids’ drug problems gain more and more attention, River Forest parents are beginning to actively engage in the conversation.

Roughly 50 people gathered in Roosevelt Middle School’s auditorium Sept. 30 in a reprisal of last spring’s drug forum at Oak Park and River Forest High School, where police, therapists and local officials shared horror stories — and prevention tactics.

Roosevelt Principal Larry Garstki said he’s seen drug and alcohol abuse trickling down more and more.

“We’ve seen things, kids that used to do at an older age happening at a younger and younger age,” he said. “I wouldn’t have said we needed to have this conversation 15 years ago when I was first breaking into administration, but now, for sure we do. We can’t sugarcoat things any more.”

Beth Ryan, a local social worker, said she hosts a youth-oriented Alcoholics Anonymous group that moves around to different locations in Oak Park and River Forest, and she sees an average of 25 young people show up to each meeting — and she’s seen as many as 60.

“A 15-year-old girl came in this week and told me she had been using daily for three years. Then I did the math. She had been using daily since she was 12 years old,” Ryan estimated. “It absolutely terrifies me, the number of young people who come to this unpublicized, anonymous meeting.”

Oak Park and River Forest’s teen substance abuse problem is far worse than the national average, a recent survey showed. River Forest police Sgt. Mike Thornley said parents need to step up and make sure they’re keeping their kids accountable. Know the parents of your kid’s friends, he added.

“Make a phone call. Chances are, the person on the other end of the phone is thinking the same thing too,” Thornley said. “You’re just breaking the ice.”

Working with your neighbors and peers is one of the best things you can do to fight the problem, added John Williams, director of youth services for the Oak Park and River Forest townships.

“There’s things you can do with community that would crush you on your own,” Williams said.

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Ben Meyerson

Ben was Wednesday Journal's crime, parks, and River Forest reporter, until he kept bugging us enough to promote him. Now he's managing two of Wednesday Journal's sister papers in the city, Chicago Journal...