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Family, friends remember loved ones at candlelight vigil for International Overdose Awareness Day

Cody (last name omitted) knows what it’s like to struggle with drug addiction and substance abuse issues. He said he’s been recovered from heroin for about a year.

“I kind of always thought I was like invincible,” Cody said. “I thought I’ll never use heroin, or I’ll never do this, [or] I’ll never do that. Then, it was all like one thing after another. Everything I said I wouldn’t do, I ended up doing.”

The message he shared Aug. 29 during a candlelight vigil held at Simmons Park in Aurora rings true for many people dealing with drug addiction and substance abuse issues.

Featured speakers at the event included Aurora Deputy Mayor Chuck Nelson, Kane County Sheriff Ron Hain, Kane County Coroner Rob Russell, U.S. Rep. Bill Foster (D-Naperville) and more.

The candlelight vigil, by design, set out to raise awareness for drug overdoses and reduce the stigma surrounding addicted individuals. Foster said it is important to understand the seriousness of this problem.

“When I became a congressman, I really was not ready for the kinds of stories that I would hear,” he said.

Panelists said the rate at which overdoses have occurred has seen increases over the years.

“The other thing that’s changed is that people’s attitudes are changing as we understand that this impacts every corner of every community,” Foster said. “There used to be a narrative that ‘Oh, this is a problem with the inner city’. Now, it’s an increasing problem out in rural areas.”

Law enforcement agencies in Kane County continue to address the problem.

Hain prefaced his remarks, saying there is work to be done to improve public perceptions of the sheriff’s office and that sharing what it’s done to better lives is important.

In March, the Kane County jail introduced a Medically-Assisted Treatment system. Another initiative the sheriff’s office is currently working on would open up a new 64-bed residential treatment center next to the county jail. Hain said those details are still being ironed out, but a leasing agent is being sought.

Much like Hain said of the sheriff’s office, Russell acknowledged the perception problems facing the coroner’s office and said steps have been taken to work toward changing the narrative. The coroner’s office over the years has evolved with new initiatives, including adding a counselor on staff and making it an accredited office.

Russell said that while the numbers show drug overdose deaths are happening at exponential levels, it’s important not to dehumanize people.

Cody said that experiencing kidney failure and having heart surgery has opened his eyes to the truth about drugs.

“It ties into the how I thought I was invincible, but I’m really not,” he said. “I never thought that I would do damage to my body.”

Panelists said collaboration is key to addressing the problem that stems from addiction and substance abuse issues. The candlelight vigil was put on in partnership between two nonprofits, Chris Walk and Breaking Free.

International Overdose Awareness Day is observed ever year on Aug. 31. In closing the event, attendees gathered to remember lives lost to drug addiction and substance abuse by holding candles lit under the backdrop of the setting sun.


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