Christine Beh

Christine Beh's son Chase died of a heroin overdose in 2009 after receiving care from someone whose drug counseling credentials are being investigated. (Scott Strazzante, Chicago Tribune)

In the last year of his life, Chase Beh's parents had enlisted a drug counselor to help the 20-year-old deal with his increasingly self-destructive behavior.

He died in 2009 of a heroin overdose while being counseled by Kimberly Even — a woman who had been warned to stop claiming she was a certified counselor by the professional organization that sets the standards for drug counselors, records show. The state also was investigating her credentials at the time of the death.

After Beh's overdose, Even continued counseling young people in her North Shore clinic, according to a certified counselor who worked there and reported her to the state. The clinic was eventually shuttered by state officials.

Experts say the case highlights the difficulty of protecting patients in a system that relies on consumer complaints to detect impostors and gives little power to state agencies to prevent counselors from misrepresenting themselves. It's a crime to practice medicine without a license, but no criminal law in Illinois prevents someone from claiming to be a certified drug counselor.

Beh's mother, Christine, is among those who say such a law is needed.

She only recently learned that her son was treated by a counselor who allegedly was uncertified. She questions why no one stopped Even, who now faces theft and forgery charges in three communities.

A Cook County grand jury in November indicted Even, 47, of Glencoe, for allegedly depositing insurance company checks made out to a client's father. Arraigned last month, she remains jailed on $75,000 bail.

"I can't imagine how she could have been in practice and no one looked into her credentials," Christine Beh said in an interview. "I think what she did was unconscionable. It's a betrayal that I just think is unbelievable."

Under scrutiny

Christine Beh may have been in the dark about Even's credentials, but the counselor had already landed on the radar of a state agency and the private organization that coordinates the certification of drug counselors.

In May 2009, four months before Chase Beh died, that organization determined Even lacked the "good moral character" to receive certification, suspended her from reapplying for three years and required her to complete ethics training before it would reconsider her, according to records.

In October 2009, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation completed a yearlong review by fining her $10,000 for "unlicensed practice of social work," records show. The state Department of Human Services revoked her business license in December 2010, shutting down her North Shore Adolescent Recovery Center in Northfield.

But Even never stopped identifying herself as either a certified alcohol and drug counselor or a licensed clinical social worker, officials allege.

"She just keeps resurfacing," said Michael Durr, an attorney for the Illinois Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Professional Certification Association, the organization that oversees counselors.

His agency thought Even stopped practicing in February 2010, when a Sangamon County judge ordered her not to represent herself as a certified alcohol and drug counselor.

But as recently as the fall, Even ran into trouble with police over allegations related to her counseling.

She was arrested Oct. 11 by Glencoe police and charged in Cook County with forgery, related to $16,600 in insurance checks made out to a Fox River Grove client that Even allegedly deposited in her Glencoe bank account. She also faces a misdemeanor theft charge in McHenry County in that incident.

The Glencoe forgery charge prompted Durr to seek a criminal contempt complaint against Even for violating the February 2010 injunction against misrepresenting herself. That case is pending in Sangamon County.

A criminal charge, had it been possible under state law, might have resulted in quicker action, said Jessica Hayes, executive director of the Illinois Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Professional Certification Association.