CHICAGO — Americans are now more likely to die of a drug overdose than in a motor vehicle accident and advocates say the overdose touches virtually every aspect of society.
On Monday, hundreds rallied in Chicago ahead of International Overdose Awareness Day on Thursday, demanding government solutions to help fight back.
Groups of addiction counselors, health care providers, and a number of people whose lives have been transformed by addiction were in attendance.
Inside of a box, carried by Aisha Betancount, are the remains of her daughter, Breana Betancourt.
“This is it,” Betancount said. “This is the end of someone’s life.”
The 25-year-old former Bloom High School class president died in 2019 after an 8 year struggle with addiction.
Her mother Aisha Betancourt displayed her private grief in a public place at Federal Plaza in downtown Chicago to make a point.
She joined a number of mothers with similar stories, like Lisa Costello, who’s 34-year-old son died of a fentanyl overdose, leaving behind a 7-year-old daughter.
“They were best friends. To me that’s the hardest. I miss him wholeheartedly, but I hate the fact that he’s not there for his daughter,” Costello said. “We have to give them a chance, we have to offer them resources that will help them, so we don’t want people doing drugs, but we can’t save them if they’re not here.”
And Jodi Daitchman lost her son to a heroin overdose 15 years ago.
“Anybody that’s willing to listen we need to get more people educated; more people aware of the fact that there isn’t a stigma to this,” Daitchman said. “This is real life. This happens to anybody and everybody.”
They attended a rally at the federal plaza where survivors, health care providers, councilors and policy makers like Mayor Brandon Johnson.
“Substance abuse doesn’t just harm the user; it creates a ripple effect of devastation in our families and neighborhoods,” Mayor Johnson said.
“This crisis has reached an epidemic proportion,” Illinois Rep. Lawshawn Ford said.
To observe International Overdose awareness Day, 10 people die every day – some 4,000 a year – from overdoses in Illinois.
“Since 2000, we’ve lost a million people to drug overdoses, and it’s only getting progressively worse,” Haymarket Center of Chicago Dan Lustig said.
Lustig leads the Haymarket Center of Chicago, a substance abuse treatment organization that sees 12,000 clients a year. He said the scale of the problem demands a national response.
“When you look at the years of ’21 and ’22, more people died of drug overdoses than COVID, so you look at what was mobilized for COVID, you have a very similar epidemic going on, but the mobilization just isn’t there. The all hands on deck needed to treat this is just not there,” Lustig added.
Organizers say experts and resources will be here in Federal Plaza until 7 p.m. on Monday.