'Choices' panel to highlight ways to avoid addiction

There are good choices and bad when it comes to avoiding addiction.

One Naperville event intends to highlight both to help parents and kids make choices that keep youths away from alcohol, heroin and other drugs.

Called Choices: The Cop, The Convict and The Kids, the event at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 9, in the Naperville Municipal Center at 400 S. Eagle St. will feature the stories of three people who've made some bad decisions that led to addiction, followed by some good ones that pulled them out of the disease.

There's Tim Ryan, a former heroin addict and founder of A Man in Recovery Foundation. He says he made bad choices in allowing his son to drink while underage and to smoke marijuana. Ryan's son, Nick, died in August 2014 of a heroin overdose at age 20.

Ryan will speak first during the event and encourage parents to remember their roles.

"Your kid shouldn't be your best friend," he said.

Then there's Jessica Gerke, who volunteers for A Man in Recovery and works for Banyan Treatment Center in Naperville. She says she had a tough upbringing in a low-income environment with an alcoholic father, and she made the bad decision to party with her mom, which led to addiction.

"What choices you're making could set you up for what is to come," Gerke said. "We try to shed some light on different choices commonly made by people who use."

Jessica's husband, Brad Gerke, also will speak during the event about his choices. Growing up as a typical suburban kid, he says he made the bad choice to betray his parents and take advantage of them as he experimented with drugs to fit in.

Naperville police Detective Rich Wistocki then will step in and advise parents about responsible choices they can make in monitoring their kids to head off or identify early drug use. He will show the "hardware of drug addiction," such as cut straws, rolled-up dollar bills and small squares of foil, so they know what to look for. He'll also discuss digital clues a teen involved with drugs may leave behind.

"I show parents that by knowing what is in their kid's technology, they will know what kind of drugs their kids are doing - if they're doing drugs at all," Wistocki said.

Staff members from Banyan Treatment Center and Linden Oaks Behavioral Health also will be on hand, and speakers plan to stay after the presentation to answer personal questions. Parents and kids are encouraged to attend together to foster a "comfortable, informal conversation," said Bridget Hatch of KidsMatter, the Naperville nonprofit that's sponsoring the event.

Hatch says the free talk not only aims to prevent heroin addiction and drug abuse, but it's also part of KidsMatter's mission to help kids turn down destructive choices in favor or reaching their full potential.

In a community that remains concerned with the epidemic of heroin addiction, another anti-drug event is taking place the same night.

Former NBA player Chris Herren, who also is a former heroin addict and author of the 2011 memoir "Basketball Junkie," will give a free community presentation at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the field house at Naperville North High School, 899 Mill St. Herren will speak about his substance abuse during much of his basketball career and his road to sobriety since 2008.

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If you go

What: "Choices: The Cop, The Convict and The Kids"

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 9

Where: Naperville municipal center, 400 S. Eagle St.

Who: Sponsored by KidsMatter

Cost: Free

Info: or

What: Chris Herren and Project Purple

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 9

Where: Naperville North High School field house, 899 Mill St.

Who: Hosted by Naperville Unit District 203

Cost: Free


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