Scott Reeder: A hard vote after losing a daughter to heroin


State Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon

Sometimes it’s easy to forget public policy can collide with private pain.

I saw that pain last Thursday while chatting with state Sen. Kyle McCarter.

McCarter, a Republican from downstate Lebanon, was one of only 11 senators who opposed a $60 million plan to provide taxpayer-funded treatment to heroin addicts.

That in itself isn’t surprising.

McCarter has carved a niche in the Illinois General Assembly as a fiscal conservative.

What makes his situation unusual is that he lost his 21-year-old daughter to a heroin overdose.


“My daughter, Amber, was absolutely beautiful and so smart and so headstrong. I can’t imagine where she got that last trait. But it wasn’t from her mother,” he said with sad smile.

Amber, who became involved with drugs as a teenager, was found dead in 2006 along railroad tracks in Brooklyn, Ill., a hard-luck village near East St. Louis.

His daughter had just left drug rehabilitation.

“She had been off drugs for 45 days and she was doing great and then for some reason decided to use again. The dose of heroin she used was mixed with fentanyl and her body just couldn’t take it,” McCarter said as tears welled in his eyes.

McCarter is a man who cares about the addicted.

He and his wife open their home to recovering addicts and others facing serious challenges as part of their support of Mercy Ministries, a faith-based recovery program.

Not only does he provide a home, but he also offers job opportunities in his business for those in recovery.

From a strictly political point of view, it’s hard to discern why McCarter would vote the way he did.

Drug-treatment programs are popular with voters and even the harshest opponent would be hard-pressed to criticize the father of a child who died of a heroin overdose for voting for such a measure.

But McCarter voted just the opposite.

“I voted against the program because the state is broke and doesn’t have $60 million for a new program. But, more importantly, I don’t think these government-sponsored programs work.”

In fact, more than 90 percent of heroin addicts who go through rehabilitation use again.

Admittedly, some folks who backslide later become sober, but that is small consolation for a family like the McCarters who lost their daughter on the first relapse.

“Some people voted for this because they wanted to show they care,” he said. “But you can’t just throw money at a problem and expect it to be solved. We all care.”

McCarter believes the solution to the heroin epidemic lies with peer-based preventative programs and faith-based treatment.

“Young people need to know they are loved, they are valued and they are important to God. And they need to hear it from their peers” he said. “And that needs to be shared in the way they communicate – social media.”

And when it comes to helping addicts, McCarter said the solution lies outside of government with individuals and religious institutions providing funding for treatment.

He wishes such a program had been available for his daughter.

While one may debate the most effective way to treat heroin addiction, it’s impossible to question the sincerity of McCarter’s beliefs.

Scott Reeder is a columnist with Illinois News Network, a project of the Illinois Policy Institute.


Follow Scott Reeder on Twitter at: @scottreeder


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