It’s an epidemic that is sweeping the nation.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 115 people in the United States die daily from an opioid overdose.
And every single time a loved one dies of an overdose, the story hits close to home.
On August 1, 2016, Mahomet resident Ashley Arbogast lost her brother Cody to a drug overdose.
Cody was 26-years old when he passed away, and had struggled with drug addiction for 10 years.
After his death, Cody’s family banned together to form Cody’s Crusaders, a non-profit that seeks to educate communities on the growing opioid addiction crisis while also providing resources for individuals struggling with addiction to get the help they need.
“My mom has had such a passion about getting in and helping people who are still struggling with addiction,” Arbogast said. “This has been her healing through all of this.
“Through Cody’s Crusaders, she’s been able to take a handful of people who don’t have insurance or means of getting treatment, and she has been able to get them into treatment.”
Ashley’s mom, Sharon Harkless, who lives in Peoria, reached out to the mayor, county coroner and police chief to see how else the organization could help.
Like the rest of the nation, Peoria is seeing growing numbers of opioid addicts.
With the support of local officials, Harkless organized the Peoria Recovery Project. The April 21 daylong event will feature Dr. Kirk Moberg, the medical director of the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery and Tim Ryan, star of A&E’s “Dope Man.”
Located at the Peoria Convention Center, there will also be resources for individual and family members struggling with addiction and community members who want to learn more or be equipped in the event of an emergency.
Arbogast said that a friend who lives in Peoria recently had to help in an overdose situation.
The couple, who was driving through Peoria, noticed a stopped car in the middle of an intersection. Upon inspection, they realized the driver was hunched over the steering wheel. The driver had overdosed.
The couple, who are trained in CPR, helped until the paramedics, who are NAR-care trained arrived.
“You never know when you will come into that situation because it is so common now,” she said.
NAR-care and CPR training will be part of the Peoria Recovery Project event on the 21st.
But for Arbogast, it’s just not about the technical training or statistical education. For her, it is about making connections with people.
“The biggest breaking point is when we get rid of the stigma that is behind addiction,” she said.
“People are scared to talk about it. People don’t want to say either, I suffer with this or someone in your family does because you’re ashamed of that. So I feel like when we shatter that and when we can start openly talking about this and accepting that it’s a disease and that people need help for this, that’s when I feel like things can begin moving a little bit more as far as recovery.”
Even by publicizing the Peoria Recovery Project, Arbogast said there has been public backlash through comments about helping those who struggle with addiction.
But Arbogast wants community members to know that while someone, at some point, whether through choice, abuse or prescription took a drug, it is not always a choice to stop taking the drug.
“I’m ready to openly get out there and talk about my story,” she said. “I want people to know that no one is above this. There is no certain face to addiction. It doesn’t choose only this income bracket or where you grew up.
“Most times they make the choice to try the drug for the first time, but addiction gets a hold of you and it’s not something that you can choose to stop doing.”
Recently, Arbogast listened to a Christian speaker talk about the duty we have for each other.
She retold Luke 10:25–37; a parable about a man who had been beaten and left for dead. Two men pass the beaten man and go to the other side of the road to avoid him. Then, a Good Samaritan stops to help.
“The thing that got me was that she said Jesus tells this story, but what he doesn’t mention is what that man did to deserve to be beaten,” Arbogast said. “We don’t know whether he brought that on himself, we don’t know why he was beaten and left for dead.
“But we know that Jesus told us it is our job to go help them.
“That is exactly the message that I am trying to get across. Whether they choose to do drugs themselves, whether they get on pain medication from an injury, we don’t know their backstory, we just know it is our mission, responsibility and our job to love them, to be at their aide and to give them resources no matter the case.”
Arbogast partnered with LMJ Handmade to make t-shirts that say “Love Your Neighbor” to spread the word.
LMJ Handmade will donate the proceeds from all shirts ordered by April 18 to the Peoria Recovery Project.
“I feel like it feels so much better to love than to judge,” she said. “I feel like as a community we need to band together and realize that everybody deserves a chance. Whether they placed this burden on themselves or not, it is our job to love them and support them instead of judging them.”
Cody’s family knows that breaking down the stigma and the walls will not come after a one-time event. They plan to continue to work with the city of Peoria and surrounding community to offer opportunities and resources that will help and educate the community around them.