Fighting the heroin epidemic with prayer

Grief-stricken and angered by the notion that an abusive substance would take away her 25-year-old son, Lisa Voiles turned to her friend for help.

Sarah Giglotto responded with an event that the two hope becomes a large-scale community awareness effort. Thursday night, on International Overdose Awareness Day at LifeChurchX in Waterloo, about 20 people came together to pray for those who have lost their lives or been affected by heroin.

Some of those in attendance marched down Main Street to LifeChurchX before the prayer service, carrying balloons and wearing T-shirts designed for the occasion. The shirts read “In memory of D.J. Hosfeld 1991-2016” on the front and “Heroin is the Devil” on the back.

Hosfeld is Voiles’ son, who passed away in December after overdosing on heroin laced with the painkiller fentanyl. Voiles wanted a way to bring awareness to the heroin epidemic, and Giglotto thought a rally would be perfect.

“I had to do more for my friend in honor of her son,” Giglotto said in a speech to open up the event. “I promised his death wouldn’t be in vain. It’s sad that he’s gone, but heroin took him and so many others in Monroe County and all over this country. 

“We are literally a small portion of the statistic. But this is where we live — these are our people.”

Giglotto also shared an African proverb with the group, identifying that the community is responsible for caring for all the children in it.

“That’s all of us! Right now!” she explained. “It’s going to take a village and we are all God’s children. And it’s our responsibility to be proactive, supportive, decent human beings. Please. Let’s not be silent anymore.”

Following Giglotto’s opening speech, LifeChurchX pastor Matt Heck led everyone in prayer. Friends and strangers formed a circle and locked arms to pray around Voiles and her family. In attendance with Voiles was Hosfeld’s wife, Bailey McGinnis, and his brother, Kyle Fredrick.

“We will stand together as a community and we will push the devil out,” Heck said.

The night ended with people releasing balloons into the sky in memory of Hosfeld and others who lost their lives to heroin. Additionally, Scott Davis of Project Atlas Aerial Photography captured the program using the camera on his drone and even organized everyone into a smiley face for a picture.

As people began clearing out, Giglotto gestured to Voiles and told the Republic-Times, “This is my best friend. I haven’t left her side since the summer.”

Giglotto said they hope to make this a larger event, with another one slated for October during National Substance Abuse Prevention Month at the Monroe County Courthouse. She said the shirts some wore during the event can still be purchased by messaging Voiles on Facebook.

“They will all say D.J. Hosfeld on them, but you can always add a name on your own if you want,” she said.

Voiles said she was a little overwhelmed by the amount of support she received that night, but was glad it could be organized.

“I thought it was great. It was more than I wanted, but it was perfect. I wanted some way to bring awareness and I wasn’t sure how,” she said. 

County overdoses
Overdose numbers for 2016 show 55 calls went out to Columbia EMS and Monroe County EMS in response to someone overdosing on drugs in the county. 

Last year also saw two overdose deaths involving heroin cut with fentanyl. A third death involved the mixing of oxycodone, codeine and methadone — all three of which are prescription painkillers.

Monroe County Coroner Bob Hill said the practice of lacing other substances with drugs is becoming more common.

Hill is also a member of the Monroe County Coalition for Drug-Free Communities. The group, which has only held executive board meetings over the summer, will return for its first public meeting of the school year at 4 p.m. at the Monroe County YMCA next Monday.

Narcan has been administered several times over the past few years by local police and EMS personnel while responding to overdose calls. Narcan is a prescription medicine that blocks the effects of opioids and reverses an overdose. 

In 2015, the state of Illinois passed the Heroin Crisis Act to ensure law enforcement and first responders in both state and local government agencies carry opioid antidotes.

Large-scale impact
The Illinois Department of Public Health said recently that overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids such as fentanyl are increasing more than any other kind of opioid. An IDPH press release states that synthetic opioid overdose deaths have increased 910 percent from 2013 to 2016.

“It is important that we raise awareness and recognize this growing problem and work together to prevent these deaths and the devastating pain family and friends experience,” said IDPH Director Dr. Nirav D. Shah.

Congressman Mike Bost (R-Murphysboro) held an opioid task force meeting Aug. 24 in O’Fallon to examine data on the opioid crisis and formulate ideas for federal, state and local policies to curb the epidemic.

“The number of families affected by the opioid crisis in our communities are staggering,” said Bost. “But we have to remember addiction doesn’t care about your race, gender, income or political leanings. 

“The people battling addiction are moms and dads, sons and daughters, neighbors and friends. One of the main takeaways from this task force meeting was that we have our work cut out for us. Legislators, law enforcement, educators, and treatment specialists can’t solve the problem alone. 

“We’re all working towards the same goal of eradicating the opioid scourge, but better coordination is needed among these groups. That is exactly why I hosted this task force meeting—to create this vitally important open dialogue.” 

Input during the task force meeting came from law enforcement, first responders, educators and treatment specialists.

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