Families and friends light candles for overdose victims
It was an event that, as a reporter, you would wish there was not one story to tell. Because it would mean there would be no life lost and no battle still to be fought.
But on Thursday night, hundreds came to a candlelight vigil on the Schaumburg campus of Roosevelt University to raise awareness about the danger of drug overdose. And everyone -- parents, brothers, sisters, relatives and friends -- had a story to tell.
They'd tell you how heroin and other drugs are not only a problem in the big cities and among people living in the streets, but they also are a scourge afflicting teenagers and young adults in the suburbs.
Phillip Radcliffe of Wheeling was 23 when he died of an overdose.
"He was a good boy. And I'd tell his story every day, because every day, somebody dies of an overdose," said his father, Bob.
Roosevelt University's Illinois Consortium for Drug Policy reached out to 17 suburban substance abuse awareness organizations to help organize the event. The vigil marked the first big gathering in Illinois for International Overdose Awareness Day, which is Friday.
People gathered to share memories, to say prayers, and to tell stories of struggle and recovery while candles were lit. Families and friends also brought photos of those who died.
"It is nice and tragic at the same time to see so many people here," said Jim Adair of Arlington Heights, who lost his oldest son, Brian, to an overdose in 2009. His wife, Grace, joined the Grief Recovery After A Substance Passing (GRASP) group a year later to support other parents and raise awareness.
"People just don't realize how easy it is to get drugs," said Jim Adair, who, as a high school teacher, tries to raise awareness in his classes. "It's an aggressively growing problem."
John Roberts of Homer Glen calls it an "epidemic -- but nobody is talking about it!" He lost his son Billy in 2009. Together with Brian Kirk, whose son also died of an overdose, he founded the Heroin Epidemic Relief Organization, also known as HERO.
The death of a child through drug overdose is often seen as "stigma" by society, said Jim Adair.
Bob Radcliffe agreed, saying "it's important for parents not to hide it."
The 17 suburban groups set up booths to raise awareness and donations for their cause. Kathie Kane-Willis, director of the Illinois Consortium for Drug Policy, handed out Saving Lives Courage Award to 18 individuals and the groups GRASP, Open Hearts, Open Eyes, and Take A Stand for their commitment and work.
The rally also featured training sessions on the overdose prevention drug Naloxone and other memorial and advocacy presentations.
"I hope we don't ever have to do this again," said Kane-Willis.
And there certainly everyone there would have agreed.