Charles “Chas” Karidis, of Madison County, had dreams of being a husband and father, and making his mark on the world. He wanted to be a good role model for his younger brother, Niko. Sadly, these aspirations came to an end in November 2013 when Chas’ mom, Kari, received a phone call that no parent wants to receive. Kari, an assistant principal at Collinsville High School, learned that Chas had succumbed to a battle with heroin addiction just after his 23rd birthday.
This painful loss of a child led Kari to launch Companion’s Companion, a not-for-profit organization that provides support and assistance through education, coordination of resources, support, and advocacy to the companions of people suffering from addiction. Sadly, organizations like Kari’s are needed now more than ever.
Prescription opioids and heroin addiction continue to ravage our nation, causing heartache and pain for millions of American families and destroying communities. Many people use prescription opioids to relieve pain, but they can be addictive and lead to inappropriate use. This abuse is no secret.
In 2014, an estimated 1.9 million Americans suffered from a substance abuse disorder related to prescription opioid pain relievers, and 435,000 people were estimated to be addicted to heroin. While these statistics should concern us all, the fact that 467,000 adolescents were non-medical users of opioids demands a call for action. As a father of three and grandfather of 11, I believe we can’t sit by and watch more of our community’s children fall victim to this growing epidemic.
Right here in Illinois, opioids contributed to nearly 1,200 overdose deaths in 2016. Heroin played a role in the deaths of another 1,000 people, many of whom started with prescription drugs. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, more people died from an opioid drug overdose than from homicide or motor vehicle accidents.
These aren’t just numbers or statistics. The people battling addiction are moms and dads, sons and daughters, neighbors and friends. Addiction doesn’t care about your race, gender, income or political leanings.
When people battling opioid addiction hit rock bottom, they need the opportunity to get back on their feet. That’s why I am proud to have joined Republicans and Democrats last year in passing the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. This bipartisan legislation, which was signed into law, creates a coordinated and balanced strategy for communities to tackle issues regarding prescription and opioid abuse. It expands prevention and education efforts while promoting important drug treatment, relapse prevention, and recovery options.
Just last month Congress voted to provide vital funding to programs designed to prevent and treat opioid and heroin use. But we still have our work cut out for us.
An unfortunate fact that has become increasingly clear is that the veteran community is especially vulnerable to overmedication and addiction. It is truly a national tragedy that 20 veterans die every day due to suicide. There are obviously a number of contributing factors, but we need more data in order to address this epidemic as effectively as possible. That’s why I cosponsored the Veteran Overmedication Prevention Act to prevent the overmedication of veterans and combat suicide deaths through the use of comprehensive data.
This past week, I added my name as a cosponsor of the STOP OD Act, which increases the availability and training of Naloxone for first responders. Naloxone is a medication designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose. It can very quickly restore normal respiration to a person whose breathing has slowed or stopped as the result of an overdose. This legislation can save lives, and I will continue to push for it to be signed into law.
Congress must do its part and provide federal resources to combat this epidemic, but the real leaders of this effort will be the citizens ourselves. Many local police departments now offer drug drop-boxes. Parents, especially, are on the front lines of this battle and are helping educate our children about the dangers of prescription medication.
If you see someone struggling with addiction, please encourage them to seek help through their local Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center. You can also reach out to organizations like Dr. Kari Karidi’s Companion’s Companion for help. Don’t wait for the phone call that none of us ever want to receive.
Completely ending addiction nationwide may not be possible. If we work together, we can save lives and continue to restore hope in our communities.
Rep. Mike Bost has represented the 12 counties of Illinois’ 12th District in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2015. Prior to his election to Congress, Rep. Bost served for two decades in the Illinois House of Representatives, rising to the leadership position of House Republican Caucus Chair.