U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, (right) holds a photo that shows Luke Tomsha, a former addict and now executive director of Perfectly Flawed Foundation, with Tomsha's former rehabilitation center roommate during an opioid crisis community discussion Thursday in La Salle. Both Tomsha and Kinzinger, among other local officials, health care experts and area advocates, spoke of the impact of drug abuse at the private meeting.
Roundtable unites local voices against opioid abuse
Steve Stout, firstname.lastname@example.org, 815-431-4082
There are more than 144 families losing loved ones each day to substance abuse and the number of babies born addicted to opiates is soaring.
Luke Tomsha began a private roundtable discussion he organized Thursday with U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, present in La Salle on the growing plague of heroin and other opioids throughout the country.
"In 2015, 85,937 children were being raised by grandparents, relatives or in foster care because their parents were in prison or worse yet — dead," Tomsha continued.
Presented by Tomsha's Perfectly Flawed Foundation, a nonprofit group which promotes drug abuse education and addict understanding, the discussion featured short addresses, personal stories and comments from local, state and federal officials — each sharing a dedication to stopping the national crisis.
Lori Brown, founder of Buddy's Purpose and co-founder of Dare2Care, organizations working toward ending the stigma of addicts, spoke of her grief of losing a son to substance abuse and how the tragedy changed her life.
Fighting back tears, Brown said, "We, as a community, need to work as a family in our approach and understanding of the problem. We must push advocacy programs to give affected families and addicts the information, support and the courage to combat the crisis in their lives."
La Salle funeral director John Hurst spoke about his personal loss of a son and nephew to drug abuse and explained how he regularly shares his pain with other families in his business as they bury loved ones.
"Twenty years ago, there was only about one funeral a year at our business related to drug abuse, now we see an average of one a month. I'm hoping — through the efforts of local organizations — we work together on education, prevention and treatment," Hurst said.
Illinois Valley Community Hospital Director of Obstetrics Angela O'Bryant stunned some of the other speakers with facts from her birthing department.
"We are seeing an average of four deliveries a month where babies have prenatal exposures to drugs," O'Bryant said. "It is tragic."
Alec Hueneberg, of Hueneberg Financial, said he felt chagrined to speak of money while others shared experiences of grief and heartbreak, but he focused on the economic impact of drug abuse in a community. He said drug abuse affects a local economy in many ways.
"About 25 percent of job applicants failed drug tests which becomes a hardship and an expense for employers," Hueneberg said. "However, according to statistics, substance abuse is only slightly more common for the unemployed person than the employed person."
Perfectly Flawed Executive Director and meeting organizer Tomsha told the group about his life as a drug abuser and how he is now sober and "running on passion" to help others abandon their addiction.
"To help us provide a new abuse treatment center, which is needed in this community, would only cost a fraction of what a (new) tank costs for our military. We need support for local, state and federal funds to make an impact — to make a difference," Tomsha said. "We cannot simply stand by and watch as more families lose loved ones."
Other participants in the discussion included Dawn Connerto, of Community Partners Against Substance Abuse; La Salle County Board member Mike Kasap; Bureau County Sheriff Jim Reed; Jamie Corrigan of the Youth Service Bureau; and Diana Mueller, a mother from Oglesby, who lost a daughter in 2013 to substance use.
Last to speak, Kinzinger looked visibly shaken when he addressed the group.
The Congressman said the nationwide problem was beyond anything "this country has ever seen." He promised to take the group's stories and concerns back to Washington. Before leaving, Kinzinger thanked all the speakers for their efforts to combat abuse and to save lives.
The original article, with photos, can be found on the Ottawa Times/MyWebTimes page here: http://www.mywebtimes.com/news/local/roundtable-unites-local-voices-against-opioid-abuse/article_9800f169-29da-54cf-b8cb-802f0ab55a1c.html