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updated: 7/17/2014 9:41 AM

Traveling tombstones target drug abuse in suburbs

100 tombstones fill Wauconda Fire Department yard

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  • The tombstone display outside of the Wauconda Fire Department on Route 176 is intended to bring awareness to the Illinois Overdose Awareness Day on Aug. 30.

      The tombstone display outside of the Wauconda Fire Department on Route 176 is intended to bring awareness to the Illinois Overdose Awareness Day on Aug. 30.
    Megan Swindell | Staff Photographer

By Megan Swindell

If it were October, perhaps the fake tombstones that have transformed the Wauconda Fire Department yard into a mock cemetery would not look so out of place.

Just outside the fire station on West Liberty Street are 100 blank, gray plastic foam tombstones representing the number of people who die every day from drug overdoses in the United States, according to Stop Overdose Illinois officials.

"We have a lot of people slowing down to look at it," Wauconda Fire Chief David Dato said Wednesday. "It's raising interest. There's no doubt about that."

The traveling tombstones are a display that will move throughout the Chicago area each week leading to the Stop Overdose Illinois' Overdose Awareness Gathering and Vigil on Aug. 30. Wauconda was the display's first stop, and it will head to McHenry or Palatine next, said Chelsea Laliberte, an organizer with Stop Overdose Illinois. It arrived in Wauconda on Monday and will remain there through Friday.

"We started in Wauconda because they (residents) are very concerned people who are not afraid to step up to the cause," Laliberte said.

She said the display is moving throughout the suburbs to emphasize the problem is everywhere.

"For us, it was a no-brainer to have the display," Dato said. "For something like this, it was an easy decision to make. It very clearly fits into our mission statement."

Dato said responding to drug overdoses is a reality for fire department. The number of overdoses the department responds to has increased during the past five years, he added.

A sign in the display says "Every 14 minutes, someone dies of a preventable drug overdose," which is a statistic for the United States, Laliberte said.

She said organizers hope to reverse that statistic and educate everyone about the problem.

"The event is for everyone," she said. "We believe that addiction should be a family disease. Families should be involved, not just the person with the addiction."

The Overdose Awareness gathering and vigil at Busse Woods Forest Preserve on East Higgins Road in Elk Grove Village is open to everyone. The event is free, but donations will be accepted.

It will include food, music, resources, fun activities for kids and an honorary tribute with a memorial, Tent of Hope and vigil to remember those lost to overdose.

"We're encouraging people to not be so silent," Laliberte said. "Everybody is trying to end the stigma."

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