By Danny Romeo
Special Assistant to State Representative Robert Rita
ENEWSPF- The following is an op-ed from State Representative Robert Rita’s Office on Adolescent Drug Use.
There’s no way of sugarcoating this, 2020 has been nothing less than catastrophic. The beginning of the year started out positive, 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 fifteen-day lockdown turned into 30 days and is still continuing to this day in some parts of Cook County.
Everyone in Illinois participated in the lockdown resulting in the goal of not over stressing our hospital capabilities. Nevertheless, too many individuals did succumb to COVID-19. Unfortunately, the lockdown did have some additional unforeseen consequences that no one had anticipated. Just to name a few there were increases in suicides, domestic abuse cases, bankruptcies, and drug abuse deaths.
I would like to concentrate on the drug abuse deaths resulting from the COVID-19 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 Gateway Foundation. From January to the end of April, Emergency Medical Services overdose calls increased 72 percent. Over that same time period, over 331 people lost their lives to addiction, which is a 35 percent increase from 2019.
In another news article, it 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 Representative Robert Rita has been on 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. State Representative Rita’s staff put on multiple presentations in local churches throughout the community.
In 2019 his staff modified the “National Recovery Month” event to incorporate adolescent education besides adult training. State Representative Rita’s goal was to educate as many adolescents throughout the community about the pitfalls/consequences and who to talk to about adolescent drug use. The program was off to a positive start, we presented to three schools for a total of 317 students. We had an additional four schools to present to for 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.
It is State Representative Rita’s goal, once we can reenter schools safely to continue to expand on our adolescent education program. In addition, he wants to coordinate a parents’ night to inform them of “Adolescent Drug Use/How to Talk Your Kids about Drugs.” It is his ambition 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 risk of drugs and alcohol are 50% less likely to use substances.
This year’s “National Recovery Month” event will be held on September 16, 2020, at 7:00 PM presenting “Adolescent Drug Use and 10 Things Parents Can Do.” State Representative Rita would like to personally invite everyone to participate in our 2020 “National Recovery Month” event. Due to COVID-19 lockdown protocols this year’s “National Recovery Month” event will be conducted through the Zoom application. To receive instructions on how to attend this year’s “National Recovery Month” event please call (708) 829-6947.
Danny Romeo is a Special Assistant to State Representative Robert Rita. He is a retired chief from the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, with over 25 years of alternatives to incarceration programs. In addition, he holds a Master’s degree in Addiction Studies with over four years of experience in the field.