CRYSTAL LAKE – Growing up in Crystal Lake, Tim Ryan admittedly couldn’t find his off-switch with drug and alcohol use, a pattern of behaviors that led him to a 12-year heroin addiction and multiple prison stints.
On Tuesday, Ryan came back to his hometown to share his story with the addictive opiate and to connect residents with resources on a heroin epidemic that he said is festering in the Chicago suburbs.
Detailing years of abuse with alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and ultimately heroin, Ryan described to a crowd at Park Place how heroin unleashed an inner monster and took him down “a 12-year road to hell.”
“This disease will destroy your family,” Ryan said. “It will take away your heart and soul.”
In those 12 years, he overdosed eight times, was labeled clinically dead three times, experienced two heart attacks and served two prison sentences.
He recalled being high off heroin during Boy Scout meetings with children as a Cub Scout pack leader. He detailed how he used heroin with his son, Nick, who died last year from a heroin overdose at 20 years old on Ryan’s 21-month sobriety date.
After committing to sobriety, Ryan grounded himself in treatment, connecting with drug awareness groups and starting a foundation called A Man in Recovery, based in Naperville. The foundation helps recovering drug addicts who don’t have health insurance.
Now sober for two and a half years, Ryan said his son’s death was the worst day of his life. He explained how he later helped put 24 of his son’s friends into treatment.
“Nick died a martyr, but one death is too many,” Ryan said.
About 40 people attended Ryan’s heroin awareness event in Crystal Lake, as Ryan and other speakers shared stories and tried to turn attention to how communities can combat heroin use locally through prevention.
Naperville police officer Shaun Ferguson described the common gateways, like marijuana and prescription pill abuse, to heroin, along with the effects and warning signs of heroin use.
Police detective Rich Wistocki, also from Naperville, urged parents to take responsibility for their children’s actions. He showed attendees drug test kits and software that can monitor kids’ cellphone activity, as a means to discourage children from drug abuse.
Chelsea Laliberte, executive director for Live4Lali in Arlington Heights, discussed the drug awareness group’s efforts to spread the use of Narcan, a treatment drug designed to reverse overdoses and save lives.
Numerous police departments in McHenry County, including Algonquin, Huntley, Lake in the Hills and Crystal Lake, have equipped officers with Narcan, as heroin use has increased in the Chicago area.
Derek Hyrkas, the deputy Crystal Lake police chief, told the crowd the department has responded to four overdose incidents related to heroin since acquiring Narcan 13 months ago.
“We administered the nasal spray Narcan. The people recovered, and they survived,” Hyrkas said. “We’ve had success here in Crystal Lake.”
The crowd applauded Hyrkas.