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Western Springs resident takes stand against heroin with traveling tombstones

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014 4:10 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014 8:27 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Matthew Hendrickson - mhendrickson@shawmedia.com)
Cassandra Wingert and her son, Noah, 5, stand in front of styrofoam tombstones meant to raise awareness about deaths from heroin overdoses and the need for more police departments to carry Naloxone, which reverses an overdose, in their squad cars.

WESTERN SPRINGS – Since graduating from Lyons Township High School in 2008, Cassandra Wingert said she’s buried 12 friends who have died from overdoses.

It’s all of those personal losses that motivated Wingert to bring the Traveling Tombstones to her front yard for this year’s Overdose Awareness Week by Stop Overdose Illinois.

“My intention is to bring more awareness to the area,” Wingert said.

Wingert, who will have the tombstones in her yard through Saturday, explained the traveling tombstones combat what she called “not in my backyard syndrome,” by literally making a statement in people’s front lawns.

“We have a tendency to think that overdoses, addiction and heroin aren’t an issue in the area,” Wingert said. “We live in a really nice community, except that we also have a high rate of overdoses. It’s clearly an issue here, and it’s going unaddressed.”

The tombstones began traveling the Chicago suburbs last month, stopping in neighborhood front lawns, at public events and at municipal buildings.

By having the tombstones displayed in her front yard, Wingert said she hopes it brings to life what’s happening in the community.

“It definitely makes a statement in all types of communities,” Wingert said, explaining drug overdoses happen everywhere.

In fact, Wingert said the number of overdose deaths are increasing. The tombstones began as a statement piece a few years ago at Roosevelt University for the annual overdose awareness event. Now, she said, overdose deaths are up to 105 a day across the country.

Along with hosting the traveling tombstones, Wingert also is the co-coordinator of an overdose awareness event at the end of this month in Elk Grove Village.

“I want people to know that an overdose is 100 percent preventable and they can get trained to prevent it,” she said about naloxone, an “overdose antidote” drug some police departments are having officers carry.

The event will not only teach people how to stop an overdose using drugs like naloxone but also about other types of prescription drugs that can lead to overdose and can be found in the household. Those prescription drugs are just as deadly, Wingert warns.

“People don’t understand the connection between opiate prescription drugs and opiate street drugs such as heroin,” Wingert said.

“It’s a matter of saving people’s lives,” Wingert said. “We can only do that with education.”

Mari Grigaliunas contributed reporting for this story

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