On Dec. 12, four adolescents from Arthur A. Libby Elementary and Middle School in Chicago were hospitalized due to the use of illicit drugs.

The reason why the headline caught my attention was because one week earlier I was facilitating a presentation all week at Wendell Smith Elementary and Middle School in Chicago on “School Students in the Drug World.”

There is a silent epidemic out there, and no one wants to talk about it. Adolescent drug use is killing more individuals than gun violence ever did.

I am special assistant to 28th District State Rep. Robert Rita, and I hold a master’s degree in health science in addiction studies.

In the summer of 2018, Rep. Rita reached out to me for assistance on helping one of his constituents address their daughter’s possible drug use. After that issue was resolved, Rep. Rita wanted to be proactive in addressing adolescent drug use.

In September 2019 during National Recovery Month, Rep. Rita sponsored an event for adults to address adolescent drug use.

Everyone who attended the event had positive reviews. It was decided to take our little show on the road and present it to the adults throughout the district. However, there was little response to participate.

When we did have a presentation, everyone enjoyed it. After one event, a participant emailed me stating that she sent her child to a rehab facility the next day.

During the preparation for our 2019 National Recovery Month event, Rep. Rita was ecstatic about the results of the previous year’s efforts. He reminded me of what he told me when we started this venture.

“If we can save one person, then it’s all worth it.”

At our 2019 National Recovery Month event, besides once again addressing adolescent drug use, we dwelled on the actual numbers of this silent epidemic as compared to other tragedies:

U.S. Vietnam War deaths 1965-1975: 55,000. There were protests, marching in the streets, closing of institutions.

U.S. AIDS deaths 1995: 50,000. There were protests, marching in the streets, building of AIDS quilts, public education and, finally, the introduction of life-saving drugs.

U.S. AIDS deaths 2017: 17,800. This reduction is due to the effects of education and life-saving drugs.

U.S. drug overdose deaths 2018: 68,500. This is more deaths than 10 years of the Vietnam War and more deaths than at that height of the AIDS epidemic. Where are the protests and marching in the streets?

After our 2019 National Recovery Month event, it was decided to continue to reach out to the adult community throughout the district about adolescent drug use.

However, there was a consensus to educate our children directly.

Currently, we are reaching out to schools to be proactive about adolescent drug use. The goals of the school presentation, which lasts about an hour, are to discuss the following:

Why elementary school students use and don’t use drugs. What happens to elementary school students’ brains when they use drugs. How fast elementary school students become addicted to drugs. How elementary school students can discuss drug use with someone.

To schedule a presentation, call (708) 396-2822 or email dromeo.28ilstaterep@gmail.com.

Danny Romeo