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Turning pain of heroin loss into action for change

Debbie Bockstahler can often be seen wearing a silver ribbon.

It’s the universal symbol for International Overdose Awareness. She wears it for her son, Cody McCaulley, who died at age 28 on July 1, 2012, at his grandmother’s house in Elgin.

He was the 16th of 27 heroin overdose deaths in Kane County that year, records show.

Heroin addiction and overdose deaths have spiked in the suburbs in recent years, prompting law enforcement and prevention advocates to call it an epidemic.

And it’s caused Bockstahler to take a stand.

“From that day, I’ve cried so many tears,” Bockstahler said. “I did not want to stand still. I wanted to be a voice against this epidemic.”

Bockstahler, 51, of Genoa, attended the sixth annual Chris’ Walk Against Substance Abuse, which took place last month at the Batavia RiverWalk. She took strength from the atmosphere of support, to stand against heroin addiction – as well as to grieve. 

Her Facebook page, “Drug Awareness A Mother’s Cry,” recounts her son’s death and the horror her family faced when her mother found him dead in the basement of her house.

And she is hosting the program, “No More Death: An Evening for Remembrance and Prevention,” on Saturday in Genoa. It includes a candlelight vigil and is one of seven scheduled in Illinois. The event is part of International Overdose Awareness Day on Saturday, which has also been designated by Gov. Pat Quinn for the state as a whole. 

It gives those affected by overdose a chance to help the greater community in understanding that fatal overdose is an issue that affects mainstream society, Bockstahler said in an email.

“The day also serves as a warning that illicit drugs are dangerous,” she said. “No one is immune to overdose.”

Vicki Foley of St. Charles said she plans to attend the event in Genoa. 

Foley’s son Chris died of a heroin overdose at age 27 on July 15, 2007. Foley turned the depth of her loss into the annual Chris Walk that remembers her son while advocating for heroin awareness, prevention and support for families affected by heroin addiction. 

Foley is an employee of the Kane County Chronicle.

“I have been without Chris for six years now, and it doesn’t get any easier,” Foley said, her voice breaking. “I still miss him every day. We really do Chris’ Walk because we want people to be aware of the hazards of substance abuse. ... There are just so many things out there that are taking the lives of our loved ones.”

Chris’ sister, Valerie Kommu, 35, said the walk is to help families who also are going through the same thing with an addicted family member.

“We’re hoping that other families will learn from our family – that we can stop the cycle,” Kommu said.

If you go

• What: No More Death: An Evening for Remembrance and Prevention

• Who: Hosted by Debbie Bockstahler, who lost a son to heroin overdose.

• When: 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday

• Where: 210 E. Main St., Genoa.

• More info: www.overdoseday.com

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