Opioid task force hears from recovering addicts, first responders, medical professionals

CHICAGO -- The opioid task force in Illinois is getting to work. WGN first reported about the decisive plan to fight opioid addiction in the state when the task force was convened a month age. On Wednesday, members got together for the first time in an emotional and powerful gathering.

In Chicago, health experts and political leaders are touring the state. They want to know how the opioid addiction crisis is impacting people. And on Wednesday, they got an earful.

First they heard from a mother of a patient in recovery who is also a nurse now having to teach her family how to deliver the overdose antidote.

“We’ve been through arrests, police wellness checks, physical fights, threats from drug dealers, fights with family, worry hunger, Owen on the streets living in his truck. Seizures, and ultimately I was teaching our children how to use Narcan in our home,” Amy McCormick said.

“The opioid crisis is the deadliest drug crisis in American history. The numbers are simply staggering,” Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said.

Last year nearly 2,000 people died in Illinois of an opioid overdose and the numbers keep rising.

“That’s twice the number of fatal car crashes in Illinois ad more than one and a half times the number of people who died of a homicide,” Dr. Shah said.

Luke Tomsha, a father and 14-year addict doesn’t want to be one of the statistics.

“I have now been narcotic free since august of 2015,” Tomsha said.

Still in the battle of his life to stay clean he know there is no one easy answer.

“I now advocate for an all encompassing approach to addiction, whether it be medical assisted treatment, abstinence-based programs or holistic approaches, addiction is not a one size fits all package,” Tomsha said.

Every addict is different and every loss is devastating. But parents like John Roberts said they will not let their loved ones die in vain.

“When this problem hit my family and my community I ran right at it. I had to do something I knew other families like mine were facing a lethal threat,” John Roberts, founder of the Heroin Epidemic Recovery Organization (HERO), said.

His answer: HERO, Heroin Epidemic Relief Organization, where members hope they can help people put addiction behind them.

“We never gave up hope. Tragically my prayers were not answered,” Roberts said.

Now he prays for others. And together with everyone gathered on Wednesday, the goal is to come up with an opioid action plan – reducing the number of opioid related deaths in three years through prevention, treatment, recovery and response.

The task force heads next to Champaign and Mount Vernon to speak with healthcare providers, community organizations and more of the people who are impacted by opioids.