Help is here. That’s the message Illinois officials want to send to residents struggling with addiction through a new statewide video campaign.
“Our goal with this video campaign is to continue to reduce stigma by sharing stories of individuals who are in recovery and how substance use disorder can affect us all,” said Illinois Department of Human Services Secretary Grace B. Hou in a statement. “Through their eyes, we also hope you can see that those affected by substance use disorders can and do have full and rewarding lives.”
Launched last week, the campaign features a trio of stories about individuals in recovery for using opioids and other substances, including Cary resident Alex Mathiesen and his mother, Laura Fry.
Mathiesen, 31, said he was first introduced to opioids at age 17 following brain surgery and that he conflated his feelings for a woman and heroin use. “I fell in love with a girl with heroin use disorder, I naively believed what I was experiencing was love, when in reality what I was feeling was heroin intoxication,” Mathiesen says in one of the videos.
During his six-year period of use, Mathiesen said he had been “heavy in the world of opioids.” By the time he stopped using opioids, he had lost his job, car and home. “I lost everything I owned and my freedom,” he told WTTW News.
Mathiesen now says he’s doing well. “My recovery is the strongest it’s ever been,” he said. “I know the danger in front of me and I know what I’m capable of if I let myself go.”
For nearly two years, Mathiesen has been working as the McHenry County opioid overdose prevention program outreach coordinator at Live4Lali, a nonprofit providing addiction and overdose prevention services and harm reduction-focused education. “Being able to work with people going through (recovery) has only strengthened my own recovery,” he said.
Mathiesen agreed to participate in the statewide campaign to help others. “It’s my duty to offer help to anyone who can get it. If my story and my mom’s story and our mutual story together can help someone, I’m happy to share it,” he said. “It’s our duty in recovery to help other people.”
The campaign also includes a video in Spanish that shares the story of Diana Galicia, whose son died from an overdose. That video was made to recognize the need in Spanish-speaking communities and to highlight the Spanish-speaking specialists on staff at the Illinois helpline, officials said.
Participants and Illinois officials hope the campaign will resonate with people and encourage them to seek help.
“You are not an island. You are not alone, and this really is a disease,” Fry says in a campaign video with her son. “Anyone can find help, but you have to reach out, and I know that’s scary.”
Mathiesen echoed his mother’s sentiment. “Other people have been through it and you can lean on each other for support,” he said. “Addiction doesn’t have to be the one thing that defines you. It can be a chapter in a book, but it doesn’t have to be the end.”
Each of the videos includes information about the Illinois Helpline for Opioids and Other Substances, which connects individuals in need with treatment and recovery programs.
“What we’re trying to accomplish in this state is to get communities more ready for recovery,” said IDHS Director of Substance Use Prevention and Recovery Dani Kirby in a campaign video on YouTube. “We want to meet people where they’re at and get them the services they need.”
TV spots about the helpline have already started airing in English and Spanish, according to officials. Starting Oct. 6, posters in English and Spanish highlighting the campaign will be featured on CTA, Metra and Pace routes. A social media campaign on Facebook will also kick off on Oct. 6. Later this year, Illinois residents will see billboards across the state promoting the helpline.
If you or someone you know is suffering from addiction, call the Illinois Helpline for Opioids and Other Substances at 1-833-2FINDHELP or visit HelplineIL.org.