Pubdate: Sun, 02 Sep 2012
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Copyright: 2012 Chicago Tribune Company
Author: John Keilman


As Fatal Overdoses Surge, Those Left Behind Try to Make a Difference

Gathered beneath a pale moon at Roosevelt University's Schaumburg 
campus, the parents, siblings and friends of those who died of heroin 
overdoses created a scene of almost unbearable sadness.

They bore photos of the dead, startlingly young men and women frozen 
in moments of happiness. They lit candles in remembrance. And they 
swore that somehow, in the face of a crisis that seems to be getting 
worse, they would find a way to turn the tide.

"Our goal is to end overdoses by 2022," said Kathleen Kane-Willis, a 
Roosevelt drug researcher who helped organize the Thursday vigil as a 
prelude to International Overdose Awareness Day, which was Friday. 
"It's possible. I think we can do it."

A report just issued by the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy 
concluded that the Chicago area has the nation's most severe heroin 
problem, as measured by emergency room visits linked to the drug. The 
trouble is most acute in the suburbs, where overdose deaths in 
several collar counties have spiked since 2007.

Still, Kane-Willis said there is reason for hope. Illinois this year 
passed a good Samaritan law that offers limited immunity to drug 
users who call 911 to report a friend's overdose. Naloxone, an 
overdose antidote, is becoming more widely distributed. One group at 
the vigil sold cupcakes to buy doses of the drug.

But the most encouraging sign, perhaps, is that many people who have 
seen their loved ones die of heroin aren't bowing to the silence and 
shame that often surrounds the drug. They're speaking out, lobbying 
for better treatment options and forming organizations meant to 
support others still neck-deep in the struggle.

Here are three of them:

The Mom

When Lynne Holley's son Patrick died of an accidental overdose the 
day before his 29th birthday, her grief was compounded by the 
ignorance and insensitivity she encountered among some of her 
acquaintances. A co-worker said Holley should feel better than 
someone who lost a child to murder. Her ex-pastor offered a few 
prayers with what Holley thought was an air of disapproval.

"It's weird," said Holley, who lives in New Lenox. "If your child 
dies from cancer, you get all this sympathy and support. If you lose 
a child to drugs, there's no sympathy. That's why I knew right away I 
needed to find a place to get support."

Holley went to a meeting of GRASP - Grief Recovery After a Substance 
Passing - a group dedicated to families whose loved ones have died of 
drug- and alcohol-related causes. It was so helpful to speak about 
her experience without fear of judgment that she decided to form a 
chapter in the south suburbs.

Her group has aided about 20 people in its two years of existence, 
Holley said. She'd like it to become more involved with advocacy and 
public education. But she added that the need for compassionate 
support will likely remain strong.

"It's hard to find people who won't judge (parents) and their kids," 
she said. "We all know what our kids were. They were good kids - 
kind, loving. Losing a child, it's so horrible and wrong. We know 
what they're going through."

The Sister

Chelsea Laliberte felt as though she'd been screaming for years about 
her little brother Alex's drug problem, but no one would listen. Alex 
died in 2008 at age 20 - not long, it appears, after he began using 
heroin. But Laliberte, who grew up with her brother in Buffalo Grove, 
fears the silence surrounding drug use in the suburbs is as thick as ever.

"We need to be more communicative about drugs," she said. "There is 
no one who is immune to becoming an addict. Unfortunately, it's just 
an uncomfortable topic for people to bring up, especially if they 
haven't been directly affected."

The group Laliberte formed with her family, Live4Lali, tries to 
spread awareness and offer alternatives to substance abuse. One way 
it does that is by raising money to help low-income kids play sports 
and pursue activities they otherwise couldn't afford.

She said that part of her group's mission came from her brother's 
experience. Alex was a three-sport athlete in high school, but after 
getting busted for drug paraphernalia, he quit. Bereft of the routine 
and discipline of sports, Laliberte said, his problems grew worse.

She hopes her group can help other young people avoid the same fate.

"If you stick with something you really love," she said, "the chance 
of you experiencing a life of drugs is really low."

The Friend

Jonathan Humphreys grew up with John Kacena in Naperville, but the 
friends drifted apart in high school. Even so, when Kacena died of a 
suspected heroin overdose in July, Humphreys vowed that something had 
to be done.

Together with his friend Chris Merkes, Humphreys, 21, started a 
Facebook group called Open Hearts, Open Eyes. One of its goals is to 
help young people understand the realities of heroin; Humphreys said 
some dealers appear to be tricking their customers into trying the 
drug, hoping to create money-generating addicts.

"No one just starts out with it," he said. "I think a lot of them get 
sick of a marijuana high and want a new high, a better high. Once 
they get it, they're trying to get that high back, and they can't."

Open Hearts, Open Eyes is just a few weeks old, but Humphreys 
eventually wants to structure it as a nonprofit corporation, allowing 
it to raise money for drug-free events and pay for people to get into 
counseling and rehab.

Such help, he said, might mean a lot more to young addicts when it's 
coming from people their own age.

"Peers need to challenge peers," he said. "Don't ignore friends who 
are doing drugs; don't walk away. Let them know there are other 
things to do than get high."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom