Hundreds attend Rockford 'Stairway to Heroin' event

Chris Gleason, Director of Rosecrance McHenry County, speaks at the Stairway to Heroin event May 14, 2015 at Heartland Community Church.

Chris Gleason, Director of Rosecrance McHenry County, speaks at the Stairway to Heroin event May 14, 2015 at Heartland Community Church.

Nearly 400 people heard from local officials and families about the devastating heroin epidemic in our community during the first “Stairway to Heroin” event held May 14 at Heartland Community Church.

Rosecrance organized the presentation to shine a light on the heroin crisis and to help residents better understand addiction, treatment and the recovery process. Rosecrance has participated in several similar events in Wisconsin.

Other sponsors of the event were: Rockford Fire Department, Your Choice, Alkermes, the Winnebago County Coroner’s Office and WTVO-17.

Mimi Murphy from WTVO speaks at the Stairway to Heroin event at Heartland Community Church May 14, 2015.

Mimi Murphy from WTVO speaks at the Stairway to Heroin event at Heartland Community Church May 14, 2015.

WTVO news anchor Mimi Murphy emceed the event, which featured: Rockford Fire Chief Derek Bergsten; Winnebago County Deputy Coroner Bill Hintz; Melanie C., whose daughter died of a heroin overdose; 17th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Janet Holmgren; Chris Gleason, Rosecrance McHenry County director; and Your Choice, a nonprofit and Rosecrance partner.

Bergsten, Hintz and Holmgren shared statistics and facts about working with addicts, overdose victims and their families. On average, the Rockford Fire Department responds to a heroin overdose call about every two days.

Winnebago County Sheriff’s police carry Narcan, a drug that reverses the effects of opiate overdose. So far, the department has saved 33 lives using it.

Holmgren oversees the adult drug court, which is a highly structured, closely supervised program to help rehabilitate drug offenders. Drug court reduces recidivism and provides better outcomes for individuals, families and the community, Holmgren said.

Chris Gleason, Director of Rosecrance McHenry County, speaks at the Stairway to Heroin event May 14, 2015 at Heartland Community Church.

Chris Gleason, Director of Rosecrance McHenry County, speaks at the Stairway to Heroin event May 14, 2015 at Heartland Community Church.

Gleason spoke about Rosecrance’s work with families to set boundaries and limitations as part of the addiction recovery process. He said healthy communication is essential.
Melanie C. told the heartbreaking story of losing her 17-year-old daughter, Alexis, to a heroin overdose in 2012. She journaled while Alexis was in the hospital, and she shared some of those stories, such as deciding whether to donate her daughter’s organs.

“Throughout history, triumphs have always come out of major tragedies. I never thought I would be able to say that I have triumphed from the tragedy of losing Alexis,” Melanie said. “But standing here today in front of all of you is my triumph. Sharing my daughter with you is my triumph. Saving just one life or one family from the pain that I have had to go through is my triumph.”

Your Choice closed the event with their journey to recovery. Your Choice is the Lybert family – parents, Rick and Sandi Lybert; son, Tyler Lybert; and daughter, Ashleigh Nowakowski.

Tyler Lybert from Your Choice speaks at the Stairway to Heroin event May 14, 2015 at Heartland Community Church.

Tyler Lybert from Your Choice speaks at the Stairway to Heroin event May 14, 2015 at Heartland Community Church.

Tyler abused drugs – including heroin – for more than a decade. His addiction nearly tore his family apart, and each family member discussed how his substance abuse personally affected them.

Tyler has been sober for six years, and Sandi said each one of them had to change: “We’re a family in recovery,” she said.

Click here to view our Facebook photo gallery of the event.

Click here to watch WIFR’s news coverage of the event.

Click here to read the Rockford Register Star’s story about the event.