Hope Shines in Fight Against Heroin Deaths, Drug Addiction
As the death toll from drugs in the suburbs continues to rise—three Antioch residents died last week of overdoses—residents found hope at the Take A Stand drug awareness walk held over the weekend in Lake Zurich.
It seemed more than a coincidence when walkers concluded their 5K around Lake Zurich, Saturday, at the Take A Stand drug awareness event, to observe a rainbow around the sun (sun halo) at Paulus Park.
Just before they embarked on the walk, purple balloons were released in memory of those who have died of drug overdoses in Lake County and the Chicago suburbs. While the balloons drifted upward, Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Israel "IZ" Kamakawiwoʻole played in the background.
“We couldn’t have asked for it to go any better. After the walk it was amazing. There was a complete circle of rainbow around the sun and then 10 minutes later there was a double rainbow. It was like they heard us,” said Shannon Brody, of Palatine, one of the founders of Take A Stand, a north suburban drug awareness group, formed by a group of young women who were stirred to action after numerous heroin overdose deaths in the Lake Zurich area.
About 250 people came to the Saturday event to support awareness of the drug crisis in the suburbs. The event included speakers, a 5K walk around Lake Zurich and a balloon release.
Speakers represented law enforcement, drug counseling and those who have first-hand experience with addiction. One common message was that no neighborhood, no family is immune to the drug crisis. Heroin and drug overdoses have happened throughout Lake County.
“Unless awareness comes, this epdemic will never be fixed. Drugs do not discriminate,” said Chris Migalski, a substance abuse professional.
Here are some highlights from Take A Stand’s Awareness event:
Drug Epidemic Hurts Good Families
Sayra Stom, representing the Jeremy Stom Foundation, said the non-profit was started after her brother, Jeremy, a Hawthorn Woods resident and Stevenson High School graduate, died of an overdose in 2009. The family focuses its efforts on prevention so the Stom foundation provides scholarships to activities for disadvantaged youth. They work closely with the Vernon Hills YMCA, where Jeremy worked as a lifeguard.
Sayra lost another brother, Jean, to an overdose in 2010.
She spoke of the stigma that can be attached to a family that loses a loved one to a drug overdose.
“It’s not something you want to share with everyone. You can be subject to gossip. Anyone who knows our family well, knows we’re good, kind-hearted people. We did not deserve this. No family is immune. My brothers were not bad people. They made bad choices that cost them their lives.”
Road to Addiction Starting in Junior High
Stevenson High School counselor Tom Habley urged diligence in the fight against addiction. He said that he sees high school freshman who started using drugs in junior high.
“The community tends to forget. They’re very caring in a crisis situation, but then they fade off. They need constant reminders of this problem,” he said. He told parents that they need to be aggressive and assertive and be involved in what’s happening at their childrens’ schools.
Habley said he believes drug testing is needed in schools.
“Kids want us to protect them from the dangers they can’t protect themselves from,” Habley said.
Chris Migalski, a family psychologist in Schaumburg, said one of the risk factors for kids is too much idle time; kids who aren’t active are more at risk. Kids who have experienced some sort of trauma are more at risk.
He also pointed to some warning signs of drug use including severe mood changes and changes in friends.
“Changes in groups of friends is a huge sign,” he said.
Recovering Addict Finds His True Destiny
Michael Mahoney, a 2002 graduate of Lake Zurich High School, shared the story of his struggle with heroin addiction.
“Addiction is a disease; it’s chronic and more often than not, fatal,” he said.
“I came from a loving, caring family and was raised Catholic. When people found out I was a heroin addict, they couldn’t believe it. I liked to make people happy, but I was never quite happy myself,” Mahoney said.
Mahoney attended the University of Illinois, Chicago, where his friends bought him a bag of heroin.
“I didn’t like it the first time; the second time I was hooked,” he said.
Mahoney struggled with addiction for nine years, during which he experienced overdoses and prison.
He said his road to recovery began when he hit a new bottom.
“I looked in the mirror and couldn’t believe who I had become. I lived in guilt, shame and fear,” he said.
Mahoney has been clean for nine months; he is on the dean’s list at school and manages a sober house.
Mahoney said he thought his destiny was drugs and death, but now he knows his destiny is to have lived the life of a drug addict and bring a message of how people can come out of that life or avoid that life.
He stressed that kids are starting drugs at younger and younger ages. “Quoting G.I. Joe, knowing is half the battle,” he said.
Sheriff’s Office Works to Get Heroin Off the Streets
Lake County Sheriff’s Detective Lorne White talked about drug investigation efforts.
“We put ourselves in harms way all the time. We want every packet, every gram, every part of heroin off the street,” he said.
White said sheriff’s detectives recently were able to arrest an alleged heroin dealer who sold heroin to a 26-year-old Wauconda resident who died of an overdose. The suspect was charged with drug-induced homicide.
Three Antioch Overdose Deaths in One Week
Mike Young, a member of the Antioch Recovery Club, said three Antioch residents died in overdose deaths in the past week, two in Antioch and one out of town. He said one of them was the mother of his child.
Young said people need to know there is help out there and he called for a silent prayer before the balloon release.
Bill Lamb, president of the Antioch Recovery Club (ARC) commented on Take A Stand's Facebook page, “This was one of the most powerful experiences I have ever had in my 16 years of trying to get closer to God!”