SYCAMORE – During a vigil, DeKalb County Chairman Jeff Metzger announced progress on a pilot program to arm police officers with an opiate antidote that can save people overdosing on drugs.
On Saturday, Metzger announced that they have a director for the Narcan program in place, that Northern Illinois University has volunteered to train officers in administering the antidote, and that they are ready to get a physician lined up to write the prescriptions.
Months ago, he put together a task force with the goal of getting Narcan into every law enforcement vehicle in DeKalb County, since police officers are often the first responders to the scene of a drug overdose. The task force is comprised of a multitude of government administrators and police officers from throughout the county.
“It’s what government should be – a group that can work together for something that’s very positive,” said Metzger.
His comments came at a heroin overdose awareness vigil at the DeKalb County Courthouse organized by Brenda Jergens of Malta, whose 28-year-old son, Kurt Hudson, died of a heroin overdose Sept. 29. The event drew people from DeKalb County, Naperville, Rockford, Canada and even Venezuela – as Tina Clausen, Hudson’s sister put it – “to remember those loved, lost and still struggling.”
559 drug overdose victims
Jergens emphasized that drug addiction touches everyone. Throughout the 90-minute vigil, a slideshow showing the names and faces of 559 drug overdose victims was shown on a large screen.
“It doesn’t just happen in the streets of Chicago. It’s everywhere. It can be your neighbor, your friend, your brother,” Jergens said.
Jergens recounted the painful story of her son’s drug addiction. She said that people don’t understand addiction unless they witness first-hand its devastating effects.
“Addiction turned my sweet little boy, so full of life and
energy, into a young man that I almost didn’t recognize anymore,” said Jergens. “It was like the devil taking over.”
Other speakers at the vigil included Metzger; Gary Dumdie, chief deputy of the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office; Robbin Stuckert, presiding judge for DeKalb County Circuit Court; Brian Klaung, a clinical social worker from Rockford; and several recovering heroin addicts.
Stuckert described the scope of the
heroin problem in this country and how the judicial system has responded to meet the needs of addicts. Stuckert is the local judge who works with drug court, which offers drug and alcohol addicts reduced or dismissed charges in exchange for completing a rigorous course of drug treatment, personal improvement and other requirements.
“Heroin was supposed to be an obsolete evil, but fueled by an abundant supply of cheap heroin that is more potent than ever, a drug that once was largely-confined to major cities is spreading like wildfire in suburban and rural towns across America,” said Stuckert.
A new life after heroin
One of the recovering addicts who spoke was Tim Ryan from Naperville. He has struggled with alcohol and drug abuse for 27 years, but has been sober for the past 22 months.
The former executive recruiter overdosed in 2010, causing a car accident that injured four people. Consequently, he was sentenced to seven years in prison and ended up in a drug treatment program at Sheridan Correctional Center, where he successfully completed a 12-step program. During that process he lost his wife, his house and custody of his four children.
The biggest blow came last month when his 20-year-old son, Nick, died of a heroin overdose.
“I was a struggling heroin addict for 12 years and about three-and-a-half years ago my son had come up to me and said, ‘Dad, why are you a successful drug addict?’ He thought [I was successful] because we had a house and I worked,” said Tim Ryan. “I said, ‘Nick, I fight these demons every day.’ But unfortunately, I think my son followed in my footsteps.”
Tim Ryan no longer works as a recruiter, but instead runs an opiate recovery group in Naperville, where addicts come with their parents. His life is now devoted to helping others recover from addiction and changing laws in order to save lives.
Tim Ryan’s son overdosed the first time he did heroin after being released from the county jail seven days before. Kurt Hudson overdosed just days after being released from prison.
“Most of the people who die of heroin overdoses are the first-time users, the people coming out of drug treatment, people in halfway houses, or people coming out of county jail or prison, because their tolerances are down and they go and use, and it suppresses the system and they die,” said Tim Ryan.
One thing that might have saved the lives of Hudson and Nick Ryan is Naloxone, commonly called Narcan, a drug that reverses the effects of opiates like heroin and morphine. Tim Ryan’s own life was saved three times by doses of Narcan.
Participants from far and away
Kaitie Jones, 17, from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, is staying at a halfway house in Rockford called Marlowe House, and attended the vigil.
“I’m really glad I got to come. It was a really, really good presentation,” said Jones. “You could actually tell the heartfeltness in the comments and the genuineness. It was sort of hard to watch, because my best friend just died from an overdose last year at this same time.”
Also in attendance were Jorge Sclar and Marina Urricariet from Buenos Aires, Argentina. They work with an addiction recovery program called CMI Abasto. They have been doing drug rehabilitation for more than 30 years in Argentina and are in the United States for five years.
“It was really sad to listen, but this is the reality,” said Sclar. “We are fighting together, but we are losing the war. If we don’t go to the root, we are going to lose. The root is person-by-person, because we are different and we need to resolve each difficulty that a person has.”
Plans for the future
After the vigil, Jergens said that she was overwhelmed by the support and promises to make it an annual event. Since Aug. 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day, she said it will always be around that day.
They sold T-shirts and bandanas and took donations during the vigil and the money raised will be used for next year’s event. Next year, they hope to do a pig roast and walk.
“My son would have been 30 years old,” she said, “so we really want to make it big next year.”