Guest Viewpoint

There’s no way of sugar-coating this: 2020 has been nothing less than catastrophic.

The beginning of the year started out positive, and we were having extremely mild weather compared to last year. By the beginning of March, a lightly covered news story containing the word “COVID-19” began to rear its ugly head.

What was supposed to be a 15-day lockdown turned into 30 days and is still continuing to this day in parts of Cook County.

Everyone in Illinois participated in the lockdown with the goal of not over-stressing our hospital capabilities. Nevertheless, too many individuals did succumb to COVID-19.

Unfortunately, the lockdown had some additional unforeseen consequences. Just to name a few are increases in suicides, domestic abuse cases, bankruptcies and drug abuse deaths.

I would like to focus on deaths from drug abuse that have resulted from the health crisis lockdown.

In one news article, health officials in Chicago stated that Cook County saw opioid overdoses skyrocket when more people were isolated in their homes.

“The interaction between COVID-19, the fear of COVID-19 and substance use and addiction are pretty much the worst combination I have seen in my career, without question,” said Dr. Thomas Britton, president and CEO of the Gateway Foundation.

From January to the end of April, calls to emergency medical services for an overdose increased 72 percent. During that same time period, over 331 people lost their lives to addiction, a 35-percent increase from 2019.

In another news article, the report emphasized that, in Cook County, 463 more people died from overdoses than in the first five months of 2019, almost doubling the rate.

“Oh, goodness, that’s insane,” said Dr. Stephen Aks, chief of toxicology for Cook County Health in Illinois, when he learned of the doubling numbers of deaths from drug overdoses.

Hopefully, now that some of the restrictions have been lifted, we will see a decrease in drug overdose deaths.

State Rep. Robert Rita has been active in promoting a drug education campaign for the past few years. In 2018, he held his first “National Recovery Month” event during the month of September.

The main goal of the event was to help adults understand the effects and consequences of adolescent drug use. Rita’s staff conducted multiple presentations at local churches throughout the community.

In 2019, Rita’s staff modified the National Recovery Month event to incorporate adolescent education besides adult training. Rita’s goal was to educate as many adolescents as possible throughout the community about the pitfalls and consequences and who to talk to about drug use.

The program was off to a positive start, and organizers presented at three schools with a total of 317 students, with an additional four schools scheduled for presentations to an additional of 1,260 students.

Unfortunately, on March 9, the COVID-19 lockdown began, resulting in all schools being closed for the remainder of the school year.

Nonetheless, it is Rita’s goal, once his staff can enter schools safely, to continue to expand the adolescent education program. In addition, he plans to coordinate a parents’ night to inform them and present “Adolescent Drug Use/How to Talk Your Kids About Drugs.”

The intention is to create an atmosphere where parents and children can have an open conversation about adolescent drug use. The data is quite clear: children whose parents talk to them about the risks of drugs and alcohol are 50 percent less likely to use illegal substances.

This year’s National Recovery Month event will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 16, at 7 p.m., and it will present “Adolescent Drug Use and 10 Things Parents Can Do.” Due to pandemic protocols, this year’s event will be conducted through the Zoom app.

State Rep. Robert Rita invites everyone to participate in the 2020 National Recovery Month event.

To receive instructions on how to attend this year’s event, call (708) 829-6947.

Editor’s note: Danny Romeo is a special assistant to state Rep. Robert Rita, of Blue Island. Romeo has a master’s degree in addiction studies with over four years of experience in the field.