How we deal with addiction

Forum: How people get hooked - and helped
Pam Monson

    Heroin addiction doesn’t always start in a dark, dank alley in the inner city. It starts just as easily with the pain pills you were prescribed when you broke your leg. So, are you at risk of becoming a “dope fiend?”
    Maybe heroin addiction hasn’t affected you personally, but it’s in your community. It knows no boundaries — young, old, rich, poor, smart or not. It grabs its victims in just one use. Yes, you should be concerned.
    The Wilmington Coalition for a Healthy Community has partnered with Will County Executive Larry Walsh to host a forum, “Heroin — a Beautiful Life Down a Vein,” on Thursday, March 2, from 6 to 8:30 p.m., at Wilmington Middle School. Jolinda Wade, the mother of Chicago Bulls guard Dwyane Wade, will be the keynote speaker.
    Residents might not accept that heroin is a problem in their community, that it’s someplace else — but it’s everywhere, said Anastasia Tuskey, Walsh’s communications director.
    “Heroin and opioids don’t discriminate. They  attack any race, social standing, it can be anybody,” she said.
    According to statistics kept by Will County Coroner Patrick K. O’Neil, Will County ended 2016 with 76 heroin overdose deaths on the books — an all-time high. Four of those deaths occurred in the Wilmington and Braidwood area. Now there’s an even greater threat; heroin is being laced with fentanyl, which is killing people instantly because they’re using the same amount of heroin they’d used in the past and overdosing on the much stronger combination.
    The most unwitting victims are those who graduated to heroin from prescription opioids, namely pain killers.
    “They get 30 Vicodin when they break their leg,  and they take them all because they’re good patients, and then they get hooked — but can’t get any more, so they turn to heroin,” Tuskey explained. “That’s what the big problem is right now, and that’s what our effort is, to educate people and let them know that sometimes Tylenol’s OK.”
    “People” includes prescribing physicians, their patients and the pharmacies that fill multiple opioid prescriptions for the same person from different doctors.
    “It’s raising awareness across the board,” Tuskey said. “The drug abuse of choice is in your medicine chest, you just need to be aware of that.”
    Those attending the forum will gain insight about the body’s response to heroin that leads to addiction as well as what’s being done locally and countywide to save the lives of those caught in heroin’s grip.
    Chief Executive Walsh will talk about Heroin Education Leads to Preventative Solutions (HELPS). The program focused on heroin for five years, but now it’s recognizing that prescription opiates are a part of the problem too.
    Will County Circuit Court Judge Ray Nash has been a big advocate for HELPS. He’s supportive of the program in his courtroom, and tries to refer people to treatment. He has taken a special interest in the Wilmington and Braidwood area, participating with the coalitions in both communities.
    The judge will discuss his experiences with people in his courtroom, what he’s been trying to do personally to help, and how he views the bigger picture.
    Will County State’s Attorney Jim Glasgow will talk about drug court, which has been a successful program with 30 to 40 graduates each semi-annual session. The program recognized that incarceration wasn’t working.
    “It’s very helpful, to get people who have been arrested, to give them a second chance, because they recognize that addiction is an illness,” Tuskey said.
    “People have really recognized [addiction] is a medical illness. It’s not a moral failing any more. That’s an important thing to identify, because it used to be, ‘they’re a drug addict, they’re bad people. They made bad choices.’
    “Yeah, they may have made bad choices, but now they’ve become physically dependent on it and they need to get well,” Tuskey continued. “They need to get healthy again and kick the addiction.”
    Mark Robinson from the Robert Crown Center for Health Education will talk about the heroin prevention curriculum being used at Wilmington Middle School.
    Local police are now using Narcan, the opioid antidote. The success of this program will be reviewed during the forum.
    Jolinda Wade, will tell of her journey from addiction to redemption. Throughout her son’s childhood, she struggled with addictions to alcohol, heroin and cocaine. While Dwyane played hoops for Marquette University, she was either in jail, or in hiding from the law.
    She served a 23-month sentence, but skipped out while on work release during a second, 14-month, sentence. She cleaned herself up over the next couple of years, and returned to prison to complete her sentence.
    She was ordained a Baptist pastor in 2007, and has become “one of the most charismatic and dynamic speakers in the country,” according to her website. She established the recovery addiction alcohol center at Loretto Hospital in Chicago, among other community works.
    “She has a very powerful story. It just goes to show you that even if you have money, and security, and success through your family, that’s not going to protect you,” Tuskey said.
    A resource fair will be held before and after the presentation. Will County HELPS, Warriors Against Substance Abuse (WASA), Stepping Stones, Rosecrance, Chestnut Health Systems, the Wilmington Coalition for a Healthy Community, the county Drug Court program, the Heroin Epidemic Relief Organization (HERO), and Mother Warriors Against Heroin (MWAH) will be represented.
    Tuskey said the efforts in Will County have helped to raise awareness and reduce harm, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. Heroin addiction is a multi-layered problem, and requires a multi-layered approach, and time, to solve.
    “We’re doing a lot to reduce deaths, and that’s our primary function right now. We want to keep people alive, because you can’t get a dead addict into treatment,” Tuskey commented.

2016 accidental overdose statistics

    Will County Coroner Patrick K. O’Neil recorded 115 accidental overdose deaths in Will County in 2016. Heroin and/or fentanyl, a possible heroin substitute, caused 76 of those deaths — compared to 53 in 2015.
    The coroner’s office statistics indicate that six people in the Wilmington and Braidwood area died of accidental overdoses in 2016; heroin intoxication caused four of those deaths:
    • White male, age 30, died Jan. 27 of heroin intoxication in Braidwood
    • White male, age 44, died March 28 of difuoroethan intoxication (huffing) in Wilmington
    • White male, age 36, died April 4 on heroin intoxication in Wilmington
    • White male, age 57, died May 9 of atherosclerotic and HCVD. Part 2: Morphine toxicity, in Wilmington Township
    • White female, age 48, died July 30 of heroin and alcohol intoxication in Braidwood
    • White male, 23, died Oct. 27 of heroin intoxication in Jackson Township