Program at Central HS addresses the problem of heroin addiction

Tyler Lyberg of Your Choice Preventative Education sits among 144 pairs of empty shoes representing the deaths from heroin overdoses in Kenosha County 2013-2015.

Tyler Lyberg of Your Choice Preventative Education sits among 144 pairs of empty shoes representing the deaths from heroin overdoses in Kenosha County 2013-2015.

An audience of about 75 people at Central High School in Paddock Lake Tuesday heard about the problem of heroin abuse from a number of perspectives.

The school hosted the “Stairway to Heroin” educational program in the cafetorium. Earlier in the day, students also heard a presentation on the same subject matter.

Those in attendance in the evening heard about heroin from the perspective of law enforcement, an emergency room physician, a treatment professional, a parent of an overdose victim and a family who has managed to get their life back after enduring the ordeal of having one of their own a drug addict.

Sitting in the audience, it was hard not to notice the many pairs of shoes on the stage, some on a set of risers.

In all there were 144 pairs, each representing a person who has died from heroin in Kenosha County from 2013 through 2016.

“This affects everyone,” said Sheriff David Beth, the emcee for the night.

Melanie C. described losing her teen age daughter to a heroin overdose. At times she read from notes she wrote herself the night her daughter died, relating experiences from deciding to withdraw life support after her daughter showed no signs of brain life to deciding to let her healthy organs be used for donations.

“It was a decision I never thought I would have to make,” she said. “I never thought I would be giving pieces of you away.

Dr. Timothy Westlake, medical director, Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital, offered a perspective from the medical profession. He related how increased use of prescription opioids to treat pain has contributed to the unintended effect of creating a heroin use problem.

80 percent of heroin users started with prescription drugs, Westlake said. They seem safe; they’re a pill prescribed by your doctor.

But when the user gets hooked on the feeling of euphoria the drugs bring, and the prescription can no longer be had, heroin becomes an option, Westlake said.

Westlake said he uses the equation POP = H (prescription opioid pills = heroin) to illustrate the link between prescriptions pills and heroin.

“The key is education,” Westlake said. “Those bottles of pills are bottles of heroin.”

The medical profession bears some of the responsibility, Westlake said. Various manifestations of opioids have been developed through the years, often with the idea that the latest opioid was going to be the one that was not a problem and could be prescribed widely. But the problems always develop. Recently, there was even a school of thought that doctors were not doing enough to treat pain in patients. The latest opioids seemed like an answer.

“You come to my department, I want you to feel better,” Westlake said of a doctor’s perspective. “You want to feel good when you have an injury. That’s not realistic.”

Westlake said change in the medical field is needed when it comes to prescribing opioids. He advocates severely limiting their use. He explained:

“I don’t give a lot of narcotics anymore. I tell people it’s going to hurt, but you’re going to get through … Pain will not kill you but pain killers will.”

Detective David Alfredson of the Kenosha Drug Operations Group said today’s drugs are more potent, pure and dangerous than drugs of old. Heroin is so much purer now that it does not have to be injected, it can be smoked or snorted. Even marijuana — especially in forms such as shatter or dab — is much more potent than in the past.

“I have not known one person who is a heroin addict that hasn’t used marijuana,” Alfredson said.

Alfredson warned against allowing unused prescription drugs to be around the house. Dispose of them, he said.

“If they’re lying around, they’re going to get used,” Alfredson said.

Chris Gleason, director of Rosecrance, a rehab organization, talked about the difficulties — and potential effectiveness — of treatment and rehab for addiction. 93 percent of young adults who need treatment don’t think they need it, Gleason said.

As a preventative, Gleason proposed communication with your kids.

“The number one prevention tool is family dinner,” Gleason said. “You have to put the things (electronics) away and have a conversation.”

Though several portions of the program were emotional at times (especially Dr. Westlake), the most emotional testimony came from the Lyberg family from Your Choice Prevention Education.

Tyler Lyberg shared his story of how he began drinking in sixth grade with older kids as a way to get friends and progressed to harder drugs and using heroin by the time he was midway through high school. Along the way, his habit ravished his life and tore the fabric of his family almost to the breaking point.

Tyler’s mother, Sandi, talked about how she enabled Tyler’s habits, convinced she could fix him. Ultimately the Lybergs realized they needed to — as a family — be strong and ultimately give Tyler the choice to go to rehab or leave forever. Tyler chose rehab and has been clean for eight years.

“I am so proud that I can say to you we are a family of hope,” Sandi Lyberg said.

Tyler Lyberg ended the program by walking up into the display of empty pairs of shoes, sitting down and saying:

We all have to work together if we want to stop putting shoes up here.”

Government officials introduced as being present at the beginning of the program were assistant District Attorney Michael Gravely, state Rep. Samantha Kerkman and Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Jodi Meier.



  1. Cheryl Godin says:

    In regards to your last paragraph you missed a government official Judge Jodi Meier she was also introduced at this program.

    1. Point well taken. Story corrected.

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