Grundy county suffers the toll of heroin _ morris herald-news

But nearly six months after Rodney Ridgley’s 24-year-old daughter Brittney was found dead of a heroin overdose in her grandmother’s Braidwood home, the grieving father remains – however much unwarranted – surrounded by a shadow of guilt. He still asks himself what his family could have done to prevent his daughter’s life being cut short. “There were times when she had clarity and we could have gotten ahold of her, but she slipped away,” Ridgley trailed off Tuesday evening while sitting in his family’s


Custer Park kitchen, his hands clasped together. His wife, Angela Ridgley, is quick to step in. “I wish I could get back to that too,” she said. “There’s always going to be a part of you that thinks, as a parent, ‘What could I have done differently?’ But you can’t let it get the best of you.” After all, they tried.

They called countless treatment centers in the days and weeks leading up to Brittney Ridgley’s death April 24. Each time, they were met with a weeks-long waiting list, or the center wouldn’t accept her request to have her 5-year-old son, Patrick, beside her. There were also times when Brittney herself wasn’t ready to enter treatment, despite the couple’s pleas. When she died, the couple made the decision to mention her struggle with heroin addiction in her obituary – juxtaposed beside her smiling photo. “You hear a lot of people say, ‘Oh, I hope this scumbag died with the needle in their arm.’ But then what happens when you come across a picture of a beautiful 24-year-old who is a mother and a daughter and a sister?” Angela Ridgley said. “You see this young girl who died from heroin. It’s a life. It’s a person, someone who was amazing and lit up the room.” In two weeks’ time, the couple plans to share the family’s story at the upcoming Grundy County No Tolerance Task Force heroin forum, scheduled for Oct. 26 at Morris Community High School, 1000 Union St. The Ridgley family is not alone.

Heroin-related deaths are on the rise in Grundy County. ‘It’s here’ In Grundy County, heroin was determined to be the cause of death in three cases so far in 2015, all over a 45-day span. A fourth person tested positive for heroin, though another substance was identified as the cause of death, according to the Grundy County Coroner’s Office. While the number of overdose deaths has decreased since 2011, the rate at which heroin is involved is on the rise. Two of the nine people who died of a drug overdose in 2011 tested positive for heroin. Heroin was the cause of death in three of the 11 overdose deaths in 2012. In 2013, heroin was the cause of death in one of the four overdose deaths, but a year later, in 2014, heroin was the cause of death in all but one of the five overdose deaths in Grundy County. Heroin deaths in Grundy County may seem few in comparison to the 36 people who died from heroin overdoses so far this year in neighboring Will County.

Grundy county suffers the toll of heroin _ morris herald-news

But in a county with just 50,000 people, compared to Will’s 683,000, one death is one too many, said Paula Goodwin, coordinator and prevention specialist with the No Tolerance Task Force. “It’s here. And people have to get their heads out of the sand thinking it’s not,” Goodwin said. More often than not, people addicted to heroin – made from the same base chemical as prescription painkillers – found the relatively inexpensive street drug after being prescribed opiates such as OxyContin, she said. With the upcoming heroin forum, Goodwin said she hopes to relay that addiction to painkillers is one of the strongest risk factors for heroin abuse. That’s how Brittney Ridgley’s addiction began. Both heroin and hydrocodone were found in her system after her death, according to her family. “Once they can’t get that prescription drug anymore, and they still need that high, that’s why they’re turning to heroin,” Goodwin said. “It’s easier to get heroin than to find another prescription.

” In the weeks leading up to the forum, Goodwin said she is surveying local law enforcement and Morris Hospital and Healthcare Centers about the heroin epidemic. According to Morris Hospital spokeswoman Janet Long, the emergency department has recorded 80 overdoses – ranging from heroin to prescription pain pills – from August 2014 to July 2015. The number of street-level heroin charges in Morris also is on the rise, Morris Police Chief Brent Dite said. So far this year, Morris police have made 16 arrests, Dite said, meaning they are on pace to double last year’s tally of nine. Limited space The lack of a state budget – coupled with funding cuts year after year – is leaving its mark on recovery centers’ ability to quell the growing addiction problem. Stepping Stones serves about 55 people per year from Grundy County, said Peter McLenighan, executive director of the Joliet recovery center. There is a three-to-four-week waiting list for the center’s most intensive residential services, but that likely will rise if the state budget impasse is not resolved quickly, he said. Goodwin said people attending the forum will hear stories of how the Ridgley family tried to get their daughter help. “The problem is when a person needs help, they want it now. They want instant gratification,” she said. “But when they go to look for help, they’re met with a waiting list.” For the 650 people annually served at Stepping Stones, there’s twice as many who seek services but never receive them, according to McLenighan.

About 21 percent of those treated at the center are battling heroin addictions, compared to 12 percent in 2009. “The families are just devastated by this. We’ve literally had the mom call and say, ‘Cancel the appointment for my daughter because she overdosed,’” McLenighan said. “It changes their lives forever.” The number of people requiring heroin treatment is reaching historic highs nationally. Illinois’ treatment admissions for heroin are significantly higher than the country as a whole, according to an August 2015 report from the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy at Roosevelt University in Chicago. But Illinois ranked first in the U. S. for decline in treatment capacity between 2007 and 2012, according to the report, titled “Diminishing Capacity: The Heroin Crisis and Illinois Treatment in National Perspective.” And there’s no end in sight.

Though no budget is in place, McLenighan received a state contract earlier this year calling for a 38.5 percent reduction in funding for Stepping Stones – or about $389,000 less than the previous year. State monetary support has dropped from $1.2 million in 2008 to $970,000 in 2014, according to Stepping Stones data. McLenighan and other addiction treatment experts are applauding lawmakers’ decision last month to override the governor’s veto of House Bill 1, also known as the Heroin Crisis Act. The long-championed bill creates a heroin and opiate prevention program for public schools statewide, makes heroin overdose antidote Narcan more widely available, prevents the over-prescription of pain medication and reduces insurance claim denials for those being treated for substance abuse. Time will tell with the implementation of the legislation, but those seeking treatment may find it easier to get health insurance to cover the costs for therapy and medication. While it’s too late for Brittney Ridgley, Angela Ridgley said she hopes parents attending the heroin forum this month will push for treatment for loved ones earlier on. Let the instincts kick in, she said. “When I first started noticing symptoms, of her changing friends, when I knew what was really going on, even if she was telling me a totally different story, I knew better.

Grundy county suffers the toll of heroin _ morris herald-news

I knew what the truth was, and I wish I questioned more,” Angela Ridgley said. “Maybe someone else can push for treatment … before it gets to the point where they’re so far gone.” However painful the retelling of his daughter’s story may be, Rodney Ridgley finds comfort in knowing it is his daughter’s own story. “We just couldn’t let her death just go away,” Rodney Ridgley said. “We thought we could save one person, one life by telling Brittney’s story.

Her son was everything to her. Her family was everything to her. She was a warm, wonderful girl. “This thing took ahold of her.” ——————— BY THE NUMBERS Fatal heroin overdose deaths GRUNDY COUNTY 2015 – 3 (1 per 12,500 people) 2014 – 4 (1 per 12,500) 2013 – 1 (1 per 50,000) 2012 – 3 (1 per 16,666) 2011 – 2 (1 per 25,000) Source: Grundy County Coroner’s Office

Grundy county suffers the toll of heroin _ morris herald-news

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