Groups rally at Federal Plaza to end overdose deaths in Illinois

Organizers called for Illinois to allow safe-use sites, where people can use drugs under supervision of medical professionals and be guided toward recovery resources.

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Laura Krausmann lost her son, Thomas, 29, to an overdose. Krausmann called for expanded access to Narcan, to counteract overdoses. “Stick it on your backpack, just carry it with you. It’s small and doesn’t take up much space,” she said.

Laura Krausmann lost her son, Thomas, 29, to an overdose. Krausmann called for expanded access to Narcan, to counteract overdoses. “Stick it on your backpack, just carry it with you. It’s small and doesn’t take up much space,” she said.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

A leather jacket and a paperback copy of Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” were some of Thomas Krausmann’s favorite possessions.

His mom, Laura Krausmann, brought them with her Monday afternoon to downtown Chicago to honor the memory of her son, who died of an overdose of fentanyl and xylazine at the age of 29 in 2021.

“He was passionate about so many things. If I could keep one person breathing, walking and talking it would be him,” Krausmann said. “But his luck ran out.”

Krausmann and others who have lost loved ones to drug overdoses gathered at a rally at Federal Plaza to call for urgent action from local and federal lawmakers to end the crisis, and to remember those lost.

The event — attended by dozens — also served as a resource fair where several local groups educated the public on services that are available for those struggling with addiction.

Tables were set up at Federal Plaza on Monday for information on recovery efforts and other resources available for those struggling with addiction.

Tables were set up at Federal Plaza on Monday for information on recovery efforts and other resources available for those struggling with addiction.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Dan Lustig, president and CEO of Haymarket Center, Chicago’s largest nonprofit mental health and substance abuse treatment center, said it’s important to keep educating the public on the crisis in order to end it.

“We have got to educate people that substance abuse disorders is a true medical disorder and it needs to be treated as such,” Lustig said. “It is a chronic relapsing condition that needs a level of care at all levels.”

Haymarket Center and the Illinois Harm Reduction and Recovery Coalition were among several groups hosting the rally and fair. They are calling for the state to allow overdose prevention sites, an end to the war on drugs, expanding access to counseling and increased funding for community-based organizations.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Illinois saw nearly 4,000 overdose deaths last year. In Cook County, 2,000 people died of opioid overdoses in 2022, breaking the previous record of 1,935 deaths set the year before.

“We will not incarcerate our way out of a crisis that stems from social-economic disparities and mental health struggles,” Mayor Brandon Johnson said. “Instead, we must channel our efforts into accessible treatment and education and safety nets. Chicago must be a city that champions equity and compassion and smart solutions to our greatest challenges.”

State Rep. La Shawn Ford said the state should allow implementation of overdose prevention sites, where users could get high under the watch of care providers.

State Rep. La Shawn Ford said the state should allow implementation of overdose prevention sites, where users could get high under the watch of care providers.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Johnson said his interest in the issue is personal: His brother died “addicted and unhoused.”

“If only he would have had the services as well as the opportunity to experience treatment and not further trauma I believe he will be alive today.” Johnson said.

Krausmann said one thing that can be done right now to help curb deaths is to expand access to Narcan, an overdose antidote.

“Stick it on your backpack, just carry it with you. It’s small and doesn’t take up much space,” Krausmann said. “Because you never know. You have to talk about it, it’s uncomfortable, but it’s OK. ”

State Rep. La Shawn Ford said a solution for the crisis exists. He said the state should allow implementation of overdose prevention sites, where users could get high under the watch of care providers. These sites also serve as educational centers where those struggling with addiction can get help.

Mayor Brandon Johnson speaks to dozens attending an End Overdose Now Illinois Rally and Resource Fair at Federal Plaza on Monday. For Johnson the drug crisis is real: His brother died as an addict and unhoused.

Mayor Brandon Johnson speaks to dozens attending an End Overdose Now Illinois Rally and Resource Fair at Federal Plaza on Monday. For Johnson the drug crisis is real: His brother died as an addict and unhoused.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Ford urged the state to pass House Bill 0002, which will create a safe site pilot program in Chicago and open one such facility in the city.

“We can make a significant stride towards stemming the tide of overdose deaths and providing a pathway to recovery for those in the depths of addiction,” Ford said. “The evidence speaks for itself. Countries that have embraced supervised overdosed prevention sites have notably decreased overdose deaths.”

The University of Illinois-Chicago’s Community Outreach Intervention Projects set up a mock safe-use site at the rally. Maggie Kaufmann, coordinator of project’s harm reduction services, said the sites aren’t widely used in the United States in part because of the negative stigma around drug use.

She hoped the mock site could help dispel some of those attitudes in the public’s mind.

“We’re demonstrating this to show this is not just a place where people can use drugs,” Kaufmann said. “It’s almost like a community center that serves folks that use drugs. But there’s still a lot of work to be done both in Illinois and other states around getting people on board to not think sites like this are enabling.”

Aisha Betancourt lost her daughter, BreAna, to an overdose.

Aisha Betancourt lost her daughter, BreAna, to an overdose.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Aisha Betancourt, whose daughter BreAna died of an opioid overdose in 2019, said safe-use sites would be a great way to curb deaths in Illinois.

“Give them opportunities to use their drugs safely so they can stay alive until they are ready to choose recovery for themselves,” said Betancourt, who wore a pendant with a photograph of her daughter. “We’re here to demand change from legislators, from community leaders and to break the stigma from the public.”

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