By Bugle Staff
In Will County alone, 96 people died due to heroin overdose and in Northeast Illinois, at least 1,000 reportedly died due to the abuse of prescription opioids, heroin overdose with tallies expected to rise as statistics for 2016 are further calculated.
Faced with a devastating battle of overdose prevention, The Heroin Epidemic Relief Organization (HERO) has been fighting back with a mission to bring awareness about the dangers of the drug and how to help.
The overall goal of the group has been to teach parents to spot the signs of heroin/opioid use or the use of alcohol early so they can intervene and save their children’s lives, said Brian Kirk, a HERO cofounder. Kirk’s son, Matt, died of a heroin overdose in 2009. Since then, he and HERO cofounder John Roberts, whose son Billy also died of a heroin overdose in 2009, have been crusading to raise awareness about the dangers of using this highly addictive and often fatally potent narcotic.
HERO, and Will County’s HELPS, the Heroin Education Leads to Prevention Solutions group and the Southwest Coalition for substance abuse have all come together to present their sixth annual summit of panel experts, information resources and support aimed at overdose protection.
The free event will be held from rom 7:30 to 11:30 a.m. Friday, April 21, at the Edward Hospital Athletic Center, 55 Phelps Ave., Romeoville.
The 2017 HERO-HELPS Southwest Coalition Community Summit will focus on innovative strategies Will, DuPage, Lake, and Cook counties are implementing under the Illinois Prescription Opioid Overdose Prevention grant.
Families, public officials, police, health care providers, educators, and the public are encouraged to attend this free event to learn about the heroin and other opioid overdose epidemic. The event also will feature a resource expo with more than 30 organizations providing information on their services.
Speakers will participate in a panel discussion outlining these strategies. Dr. Kathleen Burke will explain the Good Samaritan Law that supports expanded training and distribution of Naloxone, a lifesaving drug that blocks the effects of opioids in overdose situations. The goal is to train and distribute Naloxone, also known as Narcan, to key stakeholders, including family and friends of heroin and opiate dependent users, beyond first responders.
Dominic Caputa will discuss how expanded Naloxone training has helped saved more than 160 lives since December 2014 in Lake County and will explain future efforts to expand access to Naloxone and help connect individuals with treatment and recovery support.
Karen Ayala will speak to the multi-sectoral partnerships that have assisted DuPage County residents with prevention access and linkage to care issues. In addition, she will provide an update on the DuPage Narcan Program that has been in existence since 2013.
Dan Bigg will share 21 years of opioid overdose prevention efforts conducted by the Chicago Recovery Alliance. Bigg will share CRA’s experiences, as well as speak about the organization’s hopes for stemming the number of opioid overdoses.
CMEs and CEUs are provided for educators, medical professionals, social workers, licensed counselors, and addiction prevention, treatment and recovery support professionals.
The HERO team also has joined together to fund “Hidden In Plain Sight,” which is a trailer containing an 8-foot by 16-foot model bedroom that shows parents dozens of places where a teenager might hide heroin or other dangerous narcotics. The partners will make the trailer available at community events throughout the region including the HERO HELPS event Friday. The overall goal is to teach parents to spot the signs of heroin/opioid use or the use of alcohol early so they can intervene and save their children’s lives, said Kirk.
“HERO is working through this partnership and this program to alert parents to signs that their children might be secretly struggling with a dangerous, life-threatening addiction,” Kirk said. “Many times these clues and warning signs are hidden in plain sight. The common items you see every day in your teen’s bedroom might be hiding his or her addiction.”
Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow has been aggressively prosecuting drug dealers for decades. But he also has worked closely over the years with prevention and treatment professionals to discourage young people from using drugs or to help them break their addictions.
“The ‘Hidden In Plain Sight” trailer is another educational tool we will make widely available throughout our community so that parents know where to look for signs of addiction,” said Glasgow. “We can’t prosecute our way out of the heroin epidemic. Our goal is not to catch or punish teens for doing something wrong. Our goal is to help parents recognize what’s before their eyes so they can intervene at the earliest possible moment and save the lives of their sons or daughters. We don’t want anyone to experience the heartbreaking loss that Brian Kirk or John Roberts have suffered.”
HERO’s partners each contributed $2,500 to purchase and outfit the trailer as a traveling model bedroom. Glasgow and the New Lenox Police Department both contributed money they seized from criminals who were engaged in the sale of illegal narcotics in Will County.
For information on reserving the trailer for a community event or meeting, call 708–557-8394 or go to HERO’s Web page,www.theherofoundation.org. HERO’s Facebook page is BeAHeroToo.
While pre-registration is not required to attend the summit, those planning to attend are encouraged to visit www.HeroHelpsSWC.org.