Hooked: The opioid crisis in Illinois

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This story is the first in an ongoing series examining the opioid crisis in Illinois.

ATWOOD, Ill. (WAND)- Stacy Welch remembers her daughter Shalynn as a happy girl.

“She was one of the happiest kids I’ve ever known,” Stacy said. “Her nickname growing up was ‘smiley.’ In high school, she was involved in everything. She was homecoming queen.”

As a high schooler, Shalynn was accepted as a student at Southern Illinois University, but Stacy says, after her senior year of high school, Shalynn starting spending time with a new group.

“Started dabbling in marijuana … started drinking a little, and eventually they were popping pills,” Stacy said. “We did everything we knew to do. We had her in treatment. We brought her home. She went to meetings. We talked about it.”

Eventually, Shalynn went to treatment for several months.

“She came home in June (2017). We really thought she had it beat this time. She got a job, was working out with me, living at home and doing great. We had no idea she relapsed,” Stacy said. “She came home one Friday night, said ‘love you mama, going to bed.’ I got up the next morning, went to her room, and she was already gone.”

Shalynn had died of an overdose. She was 22.

State health officials say nearly 2,000 people in Illinois died of opioid overdoses last year. Opioids are a class of drugs including prescription painkillers like Oxycodone and the street drug heroin. In large amounts, they can shut off the part of the brain that regulates breathing.

“It’s really across the board from north to south, east to west, every community,” said Dr. Nirav D. Shah, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health. “No one, unfortunately, has been spared or left untouched by the opioid crisis.”

IDPH projects that, if current trends continue, more than 2,700 people a year could die in Illinois by 2020.

“The drug supply in Illinois is one that’s getting more and more poisonous,” Shah said. “That’s largely related to the introduction of synthetic drugs.”

Those synthetic drugs, like Fentanyl, are much stronger than other opioids and are also more dangerous. Local law enforcement say they’ve begun seeing more of those synthetic drugs.

“We’re seeing the heroin cut with Fentanyl here in Christian County,” said Sheriff Bruce Kettelkamp. “We’ve got lab results back where Fentanyl was in the heroin.”

Though the statistics may be dire, people affected by overdose are stepping up to help save lives. Stacy Welch has led training sessions on the use of Narcan, a drug that can stop overdoses. She is also planning other events to raise awareness of the crisis.

“We’re doing it because we care. We don’t want anybody to go through what we’ve been through,” Stacy said. “Addiction doesn’t discriminate. Shalynn was your all-American teenage girl. She wanted to get out on her own, get a job, get married, but for whatever unfortunate reason, that drug just doesn’t let you do that.”

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