ELMHURST – Rob Baumgartner, 34, recently celebrated the first anniversary of his sobriety at a heroin summit organized by state Rep. Deb Conroy, D-Villa Park, in Elmhurst.
Sharing his story with a group of people at the forum who were former addicts or had lost loved ones to their heroin addictions, Baumgartner explained to them how his addiction originated from being bullied as a child, and his search of “trying to find acceptance,” drugs – not necessarily the people who used them – provided that avenue for self and peer acceptance.
“The worst part is knowing and doing something wrong – and not caring,” Baumgartner said, adding his addiction destroyed the relationship he had with his family and his daughter.
The forum was held June 20 at Elmhurst College and featured social workers, counselors and law enforcement from throughout DuPage County.
According to Heroin DuPage – a website monitored by DuPage County Heroin Coalition – DuPage County, at its peak, lost 46 people between the ages of 15 to 64 to heroin overdose in 2013. In 2014, 38 died of a heroin overdose.
The DuPage County Coroner’s Office reported that since 2012 six people have died from heroin overdoses in Elmhurst, including one this year.
Conroy said her four sons, all of whom attended York Community High School, each lost a friend to heroin or know of someone who died from heroin in the Elmhurst community.
York Community High School Principal Diana Smith said several years ago, the Elmhurst Police Department notified her of numerous students who were arrested and linked to cases dealing with heroin use.
Smith said she, the police and members of the schools in the district teamed up to host a forum for students and their parents to address the issue “head on.” Since then, the high school has developed a curriculum and student-run organizations that educate peers on drug, alcohol and substance abuse, she said.
“We want to build awareness, confidence and knowledge of making good choices,” Smith said, adding these measures address numerous problems that could contribute to an unhealthy lifestyle.
She said heroin is not a prevalent issue right now at the high school, but what is popular among students is marijuana and drinking – issues they continue to deal with through hosting forums with parents, teens and faculty.
Felicia Andonoplas-Miceli and Donna Foyle, who attended the summit, both talked about losing their college-age sons to a heroin overdose a few years ago.
Moving forward, Miceli began the Louie Theodore Miceli Heroin Awareness and Support Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on providing an educational platform on heroin prevention, addiction and treatment for students in DuPage County, and Foyle began to work as a program manager at Serenity House, a recovery home facility in Addison.
“This job has been a part of my healing,” Foyle said. “It helps me believe there’s still hope out there.”
For Miceli, her foundation addresses heroin as a community problem because it is going to take members of the community to eliminate it.
“I knew if it could happen to my son, then it could happen to anyone,” Miceli said, adding as a parent, she carried “guilt and shame” because of what her son had done to their family and most importantly, to himself.
Baumgartner, who is now a client at Serenity House, is a member of the Peer Prevention Partnership program at the facility and takes the time to talk to high school students in nearby suburbs about opiate addiction.
His father sent him a text message to congratulate him on his one-year sobriety, ending the message with “make good choices” – a piece of advice “he has always said to me,” Baumgartner said.
He added that’s a goal he intends on keeping this time around.