The Opioid Crisis – My Story

 

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.

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