ROMEOVILLE – The Albano family knows what it’s like to almost lose a child to an heroin overdose.
One Thursday night, Don Albano saw an unidentified person drop the unresponsive body of his son, Billy Albano, in front of their New Lenox home.
Don Albano and his wife, Gail, took him inside the house after they couldn’t detect any breathing and administered two injections of nalaxone and CPR. Billy Albano started breathing five minutes later and paramedics took over.
“Without the knowledge we learned from the HERO Foundation, [Billy] wouldn’t be here today,” Don Albano said.
The family’s account of that day is written in a letter to HERO’s co-founder John Roberts, who read it aloud Saturday during a community forum on heroin addiction and resources for victims and their families.
The forum was held by the foundation, Will County HELPS and Southwest Coalition for Substance Abuse Issues, at the Romeoville Athletic and Events Center. The forum also hosted several tables of heroin awareness groups.
Will County Executive Larry Walsh, U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Naperville, state Rep. Natalie Manley, D-Joliet, and state Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, D-Shorewood, spoke at the forum, which focused on providing awareness to families and updates on the latest treatment and emergency lifesaving operations
“This is really important to us ... we can’t do anything to help the people involved with addiction other than to help the families understand what it is their kids are going through,” Roberts said.
Roberts, who lost his 19-year-old son in 2009 to an heroin overdose, said it was his mission to help concerned and grieving families deal with heroin addiction and death of a loved one.
“It’s hard for me to admit, as I studied this problem, how bad it was,” Roberts said. “I’m a cop. I’ve devoted my life 40 years to fighting crime and drugs. We were losing the war.”
Roberts said traditional methods weren’t working and it wasn’t enough to prosecute offenders. The problem, he said, needs to be fixed through education. He praised work done by Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow, legislators, media and volunteers to raise awareness of heroin use and label it as an epidemic.
Roberts also introduced a new state bill he named after his late son, Billy’s Bill, which would force hospitals to release data on how many patients come in with heroin addictions or related injuries and trauma.
One of the most promising developments in the fight against heroin deaths is nalaxone, a drug called narcan that immediately reverses the effects of heroin. George DeTella from the DuPage County Health Department said that three lives have been saved since the county started arming police officers with narcan shots.
Foster said he is working to make narcan an over-the-counter drug, but he was still frustrated with Congress cutting programs that help curb heroin addiction.
“These cuts mean less treatment and prevention, less research on the fundamental causes and cures to addiction and ultimately more deaths,” Foster said.