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Overdose Awareness Week kicks off at Schaumburg Campus on Aug. 24

Posted: 08/20/2013

On Saturday, Aug.  24, more than 300 people coming from throughout Chicagoland and the Midwest will kick off International Overdose Awareness week at Roosevelt University in Schaumburg. (Above, a memorial graveyard of headstones remembering those who have died of overdoses in Illinois will be part of the event).

Parents, family members and friends will gather at 1 p.m. at the University’s Schaumburg Campus, 1400 N. Roosevelt Boulevard, to remember loved ones lost to overdoses and to demand that the state of Illinois act now to slow the continuing overdose crisis.

A broad coalition of impacted family and friends,  treatment and prevention providers, and grassroots organizations have joined forces for the event,  including more than 30 groups under the banner Stop Overdose Illinois, which aims to raise awareness and enact a comprehensive solution to the Illinois overdose crisis.

In the United States, more than 100 people die from overdose each day, more than the number of people who are killed in car crashes.  A memorial graveyard of 100 headstones, representing the scale of these losses, will be set up on the west side of the Schaumburg Campus as part of the Overdose Awareness event.  The names of individuals who have died from drug overdoses in Illinois will be read during a solemn ceremony.

After the reading, purple balloons - the color of overdose awareness –will be released into the air to honor those lost to overdose in Illinois. A number of participants are expected to dye their hair purple in memory of those who have died. In addition, a memorial quilt with the names of 100 Illinoisans who have died from overdose also will be on display.

“It’s a labor of love to honor and remember our ‘Angels’ – our children who died too soon,” said Terri Dudar, who lost her son, Jason, to an overdose in 2008. She, along with a group of volunteers began the quilt in March of this year.

Those attending the event are expected to advocate for the widespread availability of Naloxone, a pure opiate antidote known by the trade name Narcan ® to further prevent overdoses and reverse the current crisis. The Illinois General Assembly approved a law paving the way for laypersons to be trained to use the life-saving drug, but funds haven’t been earmarked to widely implement it. Stephanie Schmitz, a researcher and associate director of Roosevelt’s Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy said, “There have been numerous studies that have documented the cost-effectiveness of prescribing naloxone. Recent studies estimate a single overdose to cost society about $30,000, but a naloxone kit costs about $25.”
“While I am happy that the Illinois General Assembly has worked to address overdose, I am disappointed that money has not been allocated to ensure that naloxone is getting into the hands of everyone who needs it,” said Marilee Odendahl. Her son, Ian, died from an opioid overdose in 2007 and she is now a board member of Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing (GRASP). “We are here to remember our lost children but also to demand a solution to this crisis. This is a moral imperative. We are tired of merely asking for help. We are tired of watching other parents join the ranks of devastated families whose children have died too soon."
As many as 500 overdose prevention kits containing Naloxone will be available at the event and overdose response training also will be provided for free.

Advocates for a comprehensive solution to drug overdoses also will be advocating for implementation of the state’s 911 Good Samaritan law approved by the General Assembly in 2011.
“The Good Samaritan law took effect in June 2012, but it still has not been implemented. We urge the Illinois attorney general’s office and other local offices to follow New Jersey's lead and implement the law immediately,” said Karen Hanneman, who lost her son Justin to overdose in 2011.

The event’s Call to Action speakers include:

• Caroline Kacena of Naperville, Ill., who co-founded Open Hearts, Open Eyes after the overdose death last year of her 20-year-old son John. She will discuss her journey of loss and her work to promote overdose prevention;

• Kathie Kane-Willis, a researcher from Roosevelt University who has been studying the heroin and opiate epidemic for more than 10 years. A former heroin user, she will discuss how the overdose crisis has affected her work;

• Chad Sabora of St. Louis, Mo., a former Cook County prosecutor who is currently in recovery for heroin addiction. He will discuss stigma, recovery and how drug induced homicide charges have made active drug users fearful of calling 911, thus resulting in more deaths;

• Chelsea Laliberte of Wauconda, Ill., co-founder and executive director of Live4Lali, a non-profit organization dedicated to her brother, Alex, who died 5 years ago from an opioid overdose at the age of 20.  She will discuss her journey in coming to understand addiction, recovery and overdose prevention.

• Marilee Odendahl  of Freeport, Ill., who joined GRASP’s board following the death of her son, will discuss her work with bereaved parents and her push for the state and federal governments to launch a more comprehensive response to drug overdoses.

The event is supported by  Roosevelt University’s Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy; Live4Lali; Don’t Roll the Dice with Your Life –JA2SOON; Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing (GRASP); Wake the Nation; Open Hearts, Open Eyes;  Nicholas’ Gift of Hope;  Jeremy Stom Remembrance Foundation;  LTM Heroin Awareness & Support Foundation; The Other Side/New Directions Recovery Services; Heroin Epidemic Relief Organization (HERO); Nicasa Behavioral Health Services;  Hearts of Hope;  Let’s Save our Friends’ Lives;  J.O.L.T. Foundation for Drug Awareness and Harm Reduction;  Northshore’s Secret Heroin Problem;  Take A Stand; Chicago Recovery Alliance; Stepping Stones Treatment and Recovery Center;  The Office of Lake County State’s Attorney Michael G. Nerheim;  Kiva Recovery;  Gateway Foundation; Illinois State Crime Commission/Police Athletic League of Illinois;  Linden  Oaks at Edward Hospital and Health Services, Chris Walk Against Substance Abuse;   Advocates for the Reform of Prescription Opioids, Inc.; Life Guardians Alliance; OMNI Youth Services/Link Together Coalition; Robert Crown Center for Health Education; AWARErx; Antioch Recovery Club; and Alkermes..