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Article updated: 8/26/2013 10:00 AM

Overdose rally in Schaumburg calls for action

Bre Bjornberg of Schaumburg is consoled by her mom Kari Bjornberg as they remember Bre's brother Michael who died of an overdose during the Overdose Awareness Week ceremony at Roosevelt University's Schaumburg campus.

Bre Bjornberg of Schaumburg is consoled by her mom Kari Bjornberg as they remember Bre's brother Michael who died of an overdose during the Overdose Awareness Week ceremony at Roosevelt University's Schaumburg campus.

 

Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

Participants at Saturday’s International Overdose Awareness week kickoff ceremony at Roosevelt University’s Schaumburg campus release balloons to remember loved ones who died from overdoses.

Participants at Saturday's International Overdose Awareness week kickoff ceremony at Roosevelt University's Schaumburg campus release balloons to remember loved ones who died from overdoses.

 

Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

Robbie Heller of Aurora, from left, Kathy Cada of Batavia and Jillian Peyton of Batavia remember Kathy’s son Cody, who died last year at age 20 of an overdose.

Robbie Heller of Aurora, from left, Kathy Cada of Batavia and Jillian Peyton of Batavia remember Kathy's son Cody, who died last year at age 20 of an overdose.

 

Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

Kristen Gutierrez of Aurora holds a picture of her brother Louie Miceli of Medinah, who died of a heroin overdose last year at the age of 24, during a ceremony honoring those who died during Saturday’s overdose awareness event.

Kristen Gutierrez of Aurora holds a picture of her brother Louie Miceli of Medinah, who died of a heroin overdose last year at the age of 24, during a ceremony honoring those who died during Saturday's overdose awareness event.

 

Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

To illustrate the number of people who die from drug overdoses each day, organizers of Saturday’s kickoff event for International Overdose Awareness week created a makeshift cemetery with 100 tombstones outside the event.

To illustrate the number of people who die from drug overdoses each day, organizers of Saturday's kickoff event for International Overdose Awareness week created a makeshift cemetery with 100 tombstones outside the event.

 

Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

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Patty Lynn's son has been clean almost six months.

But having sent him away to rehab multiple times and found him overdosed on heroin twice, the Villa Park woman is familiar with the always-looming threat of relapse.

While she remains hopeful her son's sobriety will stick, it's the unknown that drew her to a Naloxone training class at Saturday's rally in Schaumburg to kick off International Overdose Awareness week.

"I've known about it, but didn't know it was available to me," Lynn said. "I can't explain what it means to have it. I'm just thankful. I don't want to find my son dead."

Organizers of the rally said the event was both a day of remembering and a call to action. Offering classes on administering the anti-overdose drug and providing Naloxone kits to family members was just one of the ways organizers are trying to raise awareness of drug overdose deaths that are growing in the suburbs.

"I'm so grateful to be learning some of the stuff that's been available today," said Sheila Baldwin, a Lake Bluff mom with family members who have struggled with addiction. "These rallies are so important to be able to tell stories and talk with others who have experienced what you have gone through. For the most part, people are usually so secretive about it and that doesn't help."

Kathie Kane-Willis, a former heroin user who now studies the spread of drug abuse and addiction trends, was one of the event's organizers. She said the event sprung from the state's lack of action and "failures" in its social service policies.

"There's not enough being done," she said. "There's no state action plan. People are always going to talk about the cost of things. Well it costs about $30,000 every time someone overdoses, but it costs $25 for a Naloxone kit. It costs more to not do something that to do something."

A coalition of about 30 groups joined together to organize the event under the banner of Stop Overdose Illinois, and more information about their efforts can be found at their website stopoverdoseil.org.

"This is about recognizing that overdoses are reversible and preventable," Kane-Willis said.

More overdose awareness events are planned for the suburbs over the next two weeks. Carpentersville's Carpenter Park and Lake in the Hills' Barbara Key Park are the sites of two such events Aug. 31.

Naperville mom Caroline Kacena lost her 20-year-old son John to a heroin overdose a little over a year ago. She's now teaching others with family members who have opiate addictions how to administer Naloxone. Lynn was one of her students Saturday. Lynn worried that if her son found out about the kit, he would believe she didn't think he was capable of staying clean. But Kacena compared keeping the kit to other preventive medications parents may keep around the house in case of emergency.

"No one expects their child to drink bleach, but we keep ipecac in the medicine cabinet in case they do," she said. "The fact of the matter is most kids who die from overdoses are in recovery."

About three dozen people received Naloxone training during the event's first hour. The cost of the kits is covered by donations and fundraisers, organizers said.

DuPage County Coroner Richard Jorgensen warned earlier this year about the explosion in heroin-related deaths. He reported almost as many heroin deaths by July 2013 as the department had seen in all of 2012.

Kacena said that data has made her more vigilant.

"I've become Naperville's biggest drug dealer," she told one class Saturday. "I deal Naloxone, because I don't want one more kid to die."

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