Summer is almost upon us and with that comes kids that are out of school.  As a mom, I used to both love and dread summer because I wanted to spend time with my kids doing things but activities can be expensive.   However, there are a lot of free or low cost activities right here in Lake County.

To kick off the summer, attend a local Memorial Day Parade honoring those who gave their lives for our freedom.

As a Lake County resident, we have great forest preserves that are free or a nominal cost.  Check out Independence Grove in Libertyville which is centered around an 115 acre lake and has 6.25 miles of hiking and biking trails.  Amenities include picnic tables, fireplace, playground, sand volleyball court, fishing and more.  It even includes a swimming beach and flush toilets!  My favorite part?  Its free to Lake County residents.  Pack a picnic lunch, blankets, swimsuits and fishing poles and enjoy this wonderful preserve.

The Wildlife Discovery Center in Lake Forest is a hidden gem in Lake County.  Focused on wildlife conservation and environmental stewardship, kids of all ages can explore these important concepts. There are trails and nature-based programs.  There is also face to face exhibits with reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals.  Admission is free.

Waukegan hosts Greentown writer’s Dandelion Wine Fine Arts Festival showcasing local and regional artists and venues.  This year’s festival will be June 2 in Bowden Park, Waukegan.  Admission is free.

Grayslake Heritage Center provides a look at the history and founding of Grayslake.  Special programs include farm to factory to table, concerts, art and photography exhibits.  Best part?  You guessed it – Free.

One of our best recreational places is Lake Michigan.  Take advantage of the warm weather and visit Illinois Beach State Park in Zion. Hike and bike along the shores of Lake Michigan and cool off by taking a dip.  Admission is free.

Did you know the Mother Rudd House in Gurnee was a haven on the Underground Railroad?  Visit one of Lake County’s oldest structures and learn its fascinating history. Admission is free.

When the humidity is high and the dogs days of summer set in, cool off by visiting your local library.  Local libraries offer summer reading programs, field backpacks, story time and more.  Visit Round Lake Area Public Library and explore the youth and teen programs available.  Also check out Museum Adventure Pass that provides free or discounted admission to many attractions including Brookfield Zoo and Chicago Botanic Garden.

For more ideas on free or inexpensive activities in Lake County, please check out

Enjoy the summer!


As a mother of two who are chronologically adults, I have often wondered why they ‘did what they did’ when they were younger.  This article was in the latest Nicasa newsletter, and I thought it was worth a share.

I hope you find it as useful as I did.


the adolescent brain


As the holidays approach, so does my anxiety.  For most of my life, holidays with family meant too much to drink by one or more family members.  While Mom was trying to make each holiday the perfect Norman Rockwell event, the focus of other family members was tending bar and making sure no one had an empty glass.

As the booze flowed, so did the emotions.  Disappointment that once again the holiday wasn’t perfect.  Anger over long ago perceived slights.  Removing oneself from the argument that was simmering and ready to boil over.

More than one holiday was a less than stellar celebration and family event.  The day might end with shouting, crying, drunk relatives or it might end just fine.

As I became older and had my own family, I became aware of the role that alcohol was playing in the holiday celebrations.   I was faced with the dilemma of going to the family home for the celebration and all that may happen or creating my own traditions.  I was also becoming more aware of the role that alcohol was playing in my own life.  I discovered that if I was around those who were drinking too much, I also drank too much. This should not have surprised me, but it did.

So I made a tough decision. I decided that going home for the holidays was not necessarily the right decision for me and my family.  I started to create my own traditions;  going way for the weekend, staying home with my immediate family or going to friends’ homes where drinking had less of a focus.

As the holidays roll around again this year, my anxiety is less than previous years for several reasons.  The first is my commitment to not drink too much myself.  The focus for me is on enjoying family time and that wasn’t happening when others, including myself, drank too much.  The second is to have Thanksgiving with my family in a neutral location.  We are going away this Thanksgiving with Mom and will not have to engage with family members that have caused stress and drama in previous years.  The third and perhaps primary reason is that I have taken control over my decisions.  No longer am I manipulated or pressured into being an environment that I know is not healthy.  It has taken me years to get to this point, but it sure feels good!

If you are sober and feeling vulnerable over the holidays, please click the link below for ideas on how to help you stay sober during this time of year.

We all need a little help now and then, so if this time of year is difficult for you, please reach out to us at

Happy Thanksgiving!

Nicasa’s Mission and Vision

Mission: Nicasa empowers and promotes healthy lifestyles to prevent and treat substance abuse, addiction, and other risky behaviors.

Vision: Nicasa will be the premier behavioral and social health services organization for individuals, families, and communities in northern Illinois and beyond.



Warnings from a Doctor

By Brad Roberts, MD:

I recently finished my residency in emergency medicine and began to practice in Pueblo, Colorado. I grew up there, and I was excited to return home. However, when I returned home, the Pueblo I once knew had drastically changed. Where there were once hardware stores, animal feed shops, and homes along dotted farms, I now find marijuana shops—and lots of them. As of January 2016, there were 424 retail marijuana stores in Colorado compared with 202 McDonald’s restaurants. These stores are not selling the marijuana I had seen in high school.

Multiple different types of patients are coming into the emergency department with a variety of unexpected problems such as marijuana-induced psychosis, dependence, burn injuries, increased abuse of other drugs, increased homelessness and its associated problems, and self-medication with marijuana to treat their medical problems instead of seeking appropriate medical care.

I had expected to see more patients with cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (and I have), but they were the least of my concern. Our local homeless shelter reported seeing 5,486 (unique) people between January and July 2016, while for the entire year of 2013 (before recreational marijuana) that number had been 2,444 people.

Most disturbing, we weren’t seeing just homeless adults but entire families. It is a relatively common occurrence to have patients who just moved here for the marijuana show up to the emergency department with multiple medical problems, without any of their medications, often with poor or nonexistent housing and with no plan for medical care other than to use marijuana.

They have often left established medical care and support to move here for marijuana and show up to the emergency department, often with suitcase in hand.

Increasingly Potent & Dangerous Drug

This new commercialized marijuana is near 20 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis), while the marijuana of the 1980s was less than 2 percent THC.

This tenfold increase in potency doesn’t include other formulations such as oils, “shatter” (highly concentrated solidified THC), or “dabbing” (heated shatter that is inhaled to get an even more potent form) that have up to 80 or 90 percent THC.

The greatest concern that I have is the confusion between medical and recreational marijuana. Patients are being diagnosed and treated from the marijuana shops by those without any medical training. I have had patients bring in bottles with a recommended strain of cannabis and frequency of use for a stated medical problem given at the recommendation of a marijuana shop employee.

My colleagues report similar encounters, with one reporting seeing two separate patients with significantly altered sensorium and with bottles labeled 60 percent THC. They were taking this with opioids and benzodiazepines.

In some cases, places outside of medical clinics, like local marijuana shops, are being used to give screening examinations for medical marijuana cards.4 reportedly, no records are available from these visits when requested by other medical providers. A large number of things treated with marijuana, often with no cited research at all or with severe misinterpretation of research, are advertised online.

These include statements that marijuana treats cancer (numerous types), cystic fibrosis, both diarrhea and constipation, hypoglycemia, nightmares, writer’s cramp, and numerous other conditions.

Although there are likely some very effective ways to use the cannabinoid receptor (probably better termed the anandamide receptor), putting shops on every street corner and having nonmedical personnel giving medical advice is a very poor way to use this as a medicine.

Furthermore, to suggest that combustion (smoking) be the preferred route of medication delivery is harmful. I am also concerned that this is being widely distributed and utilized as a medicine prior to safety and efficacy studies having been completed; widely varying dosing regimens, concentrations, and formulations are being developed, sold, and utilized.

Patients are not being informed of the adverse effects associated with marijuana use, but instead, they are being told, “There are no adverse effects.” I am in favor of using the anandamide receptor for treatment purposes. However, we should do this safely and appropriately. What is occurring now is neither safe nor appropriate.

There are numerous adverse effects of marijuana that are significant. Marijuana use may lead to irreversible changes in the brain. Marijuana use correlates with adverse social outcomes.

It is strongly associated with the development of schizophrenia. Dependence can lead to problem use.  There are adverse effects on cardiovascular function, and smoking leads to poor respiratory outcomes.  Traffic fatalities associated with marijuana have increased in Colorado.1

Pregnant women are using marijuana, which may lead to adverse effects on the fetus, and pediatric exposures are a much more common occurrence.

Different Approach Is Needed

We should approach mass marijuana production and distribution as we would any other large-scale public health problem. We should do what we can to limit exposure, and we should provide clear, unbiased education.

In the case of prevention efforts being unsuccessful, we need to provide immediate treatment and assistance in stopping use. If we are going to use this as a medication, then we should use it as we use other medications. It should have to undergo the same scrutiny, Food and Drug Administration approval, and regulation that any other medication does. Why are we allowing a pass on a medication that very likely would carry with it a black-box warning?

As emergency physicians, we are on the front lines. We treat affected patients; we need to be at the forefront of public policy recommendations at both state and national levels.


Mission: Nicasa empowers and promotes healthy lifestyles to prevent and treat substance abuse, addiction, and other risky behaviors.

Vision: Nicasa will be the premier behavioral and social health services organization for individuals, families, and communities in northern Illinois and beyond.



Each year, millions of Americans face the reality of living with a mental health condition, as 1 in 5 U.S. adults will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. Everyone, however, is affected or impacted by mental illness through friends and family.

Nicasa provides mental health services for individuals, couples and families using a ‘person centered approach’ that focuses on strengths and involves the client in their own treatment trajectory.

It is very hard for a client to admit that there is an issue and pursue change. Acknowledging the issue and doing something about it are the first steps to wellness. 95% of our clients who engage in their treatment and complete their personalized program see an improvement in their wellness! Less than 15% of our clients who have a dual diagnosis (mental health condition coupled with alcohol or substance abuse) drop out of treatment at Nicasa.

In 2016, 36% of our mental health clients served were youths and 64% were adults. 42% of our clients were Hispanic which is significant because historically this demographic has not had access to affordable, convenient, and culturally competent mental health care.


Our 12 year old client who had become nonverbal both at school and at home was referred to Nicasa. The client chose not to communicate with teachers, parents or peers. Grades and social interactions suffered as a result. The client’s parents felt hopeless because they did not understand their child’s illness. The client was tested for developmental issues and all tests came back normal.

The client remained consistent in therapy, working with the Nicasa clinician for two years. The client also engaged with a specialized group of other age-appropriate Nicasa clients and family therapy was incorporated in the treatment plan. Because of the client and the family’s commitment to getting well, as well as the clinician’s commitment to seeing improvement, the client has made amazing progress. The client is now 14 years old. Communication with peers, teachers and parents has drastically improved. As communication skills have increased, the relationship with the client’s parents has stabilized. The client participates in an out-of-school enrichment activity and is enjoying positive social interaction with peers. The client is now ready to be successfully discharged from treatment!


Nicasa offers youth and adult behavioral modification groups that use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Motivational Interviewing and Systems therapies. These are used to target and alleviate symptoms of anxiety, depression, personality disorders, bipolar and trauma.
A Mental Health Assessment is performed to enable the clinician to determine diagnosis and goodness of fit in treatment. A treatment plan is prepared using a person centered approach to therapy.

Don’t know where to start? Contact us to request a free consultation. Help is available. Reach out. We are here.

Nicasa’s Mission and Vision
Mission: Nicasa empowers and promotes healthy lifestyles to prevent and treat substance abuse, addiction, and other risky behaviors.
Vision: Nicasa will be the premier behavioral and social health services organization for individuals, families, and communities in northern Illinois and beyond.


As I begin this blog, a little background about who I am. I am a middle-aged suburban working mother of two children, a son who is 25 and a daughter who is 18.  I am a resident of Lake County for over 30 years, residing in Gurnee.  I have a great job, live in a ‘good’ neighborhood and have friends and family close by.

The first time I became aware that there was an opioid ‘situation’ brewing is the day my niece told me that her friend, Alex Laliberte, 20 years old and a student at Western Illinois University, passed away after snorting heroin in 2009.  Alex resided in Buffalo Grove, Illinois.  I was incredulous. What? How could this happen in Buffalo Grove?  Isn’t heroin an inner city problem?  After the initial shock of the news, I went back to living my life as a semi-oblivious mom. Alex was an anomaly. Nothing to worry about.

The second time heroin touched my life is when a friend of mine from high school, a mother of two teen-aged boys confided that one of her sons was a heroin addict.  How could this be?  My friend and her husband are college educated, solidly upper middle class, own their own home in a ‘good’ suburb, are employed and from all outward appearances have a pretty decent life.  There must be something dysfunctional in their home for this to happen to them. I was wrong. And I was uneducated.

The third time heroin touched me is when my neighbor’s son was ‘outed’ as a heroin addict.  No way!  They live two blocks away from me.  I have known this kid since he was in grade school.  I know the parents.  I know his living conditions.  He goes to high school with my son.  What do you mean he is an addict?  And my education about heroin addiction grew.  I started to research how people become addicted to heroin, how the chemistry in the brain is changed, how difficult it is to re-wire the pleasure senses in the brain once addicted to an opioid.  I also discovered that many people first become addicted to opioids when they are legally prescribed pain killers after surgery or injuries – drugs such as Vicodin, Oxy-Contin and Hydrocodone.  After the prescription runs out, people begin buying these pills illegally.  The cost on the black market is very expensive.  Heroin is much cheaper, more accessible and provides a better ‘high’.  Our children who were legally prescribed medications become addicted to them, their brain chemistry is altered and they go in search for the high their body craves.  Heroin fulfills that need for them.

In 2015, my 16 year old daughter came home with a couple of her friends, one of whom was a new friend.  Minutes after arriving in my house, I heard a commotion.  I went to check out what was happening and discovered the new friend barely breathing, clearly unresponsive.  I was shouting at my daughter and her friend to call 911, something was wrong, what was happening, what is going on, what did this kid take, a million questions while my daughter and her friend were crying, screaming that they thought he took heroin.  As I frantically gave mouth to mouth to this teen-aged boy, the breath escaping from him, pushing oxygen into his lungs, slapping his face, all while screaming into the phone at the 911 dispatcher to hurry, hurry, hurry, my brain racing that this kid is actually dead in my bathroom, how could this be happening, I am a good parent, my kid is a good kid, what will the neighbors think, oh my God don’t let him die, police and paramedics swarming into my house, grabbing the kid,  pushing us out of the room and delivering the life saving dose of Narcan that reversed the overdose and this boy’s life being saved literally before my very eyes.

Then the aftermath.  As the boy was taken to the hospital in the ambulance, my daughter, her friend and my son were questioned by the police.  Did he take the drugs in my house?  The police need to search my daughter’s room and collect evidence.  Did my daughter and her friend know he was a heroin user?  How well do they know him? Does he have a history of addiction? What is the situation in my home that this happened here?

Heroin was literally banging at my front door. I began to search for resources. What help is available in Lake County for those facing addiction?  What behavioral health services are available? What support is there for people facing addiction and their families?  I discovered Nicasa.  With their 50 year history of helping people facing addiction, family advocacy services, residential half way house and connection to other service such as the Lake County Department of Health, the Lake County Opioid Initiative and  Live for Lali, I found a non- profit that is truly making a difference for those in Lake County who need services and support as they battle their addictions.

I called Nicasa and expressed my interest in becoming a Board member.  I needed to find a place where I could use my talents and resources to help others as they battle addiction.  I joined the Board in 2016.

As my daughter’s friend continues his battle with addiction, we have learned to detach with love. We have provided him with emotional support and connected him with services. We have learned that while we can care for him, we cannot love him into sobriety.  We cannot force him to make better decisions.  My daughter has learned the very tough lesson that she needs to take care of her own welfare, physically and mentally.  She must let go and not try to control her friend and his actions. He must take responsibility for his own actions and the consequences of those actions.  He must learn from his own mistakes.  There are resources in Lake County, including A Way Out  which fast track substance abusers to programs and services such as Nicasa.

The opioid ‘situation’ I became aware of in 2009 is now a crisis in our country and our community.  Drug overdose deaths in this country nearly tripled from 1999 to 2014. Among the 47,055 drug overdose deaths that occurred in the U.S. in 2014, 28,647 (60.9 percent) involved an opioid.   We need to come together as a community to help combat this health crisis.  We need to remove the stigma of addiction and treat it as the disease it is so people can receive the treatment that is so desperately needed.  Because if we don’t, who will?

Nicasa’s Mission and Vision

Mission: Nicasa empowers and promotes healthy lifestyles to prevent and treat substance abuse, addiction, and other risky behaviors.

Vision: Nicasa will be the premier behavioral and social health services organization for individuals, families, and communities in northern Illinois and beyond.