MINOOKA – Jenny Edwards knows firsthand what the face of heroin addiction looks like. Her husband, Anthony Edwards, died at age 30 of an overdose in November 2012 in a Morris apartment.
Edwards, of Minooka, said in addition to heroin, her husband’s death report showed Xanax in his system.
“He had been sober for eight years, the whole time I knew him,” Edwards said. “I didn’t think he’d go back. He hadn’t had any slip-ups while we lived together.”
Anthony, who started using heroin as a teenager, used it intravenously for five years before going to rehab and becoming sober for the next eight.
Just a couple months before his death, Anthony told his wife he wanted a break, and he moved to an apartment in Morris.
“There were times I felt he might have used after he moved out, but I didn’t know for sure until the night before he died,” she said.
A public forum, “Heroin ... in my neighborhood?” is scheduled for Thursday in Minooka to spread information to the community about the heroin epidemic in and around Grundy County. The goal is to help prevent death’s like Anthony’s, as well as to educate families and youth before the drug reaches their homes.
Grundy County State’s Attorney Jason Helland said arrests for heroin possession are becoming a common occurrence in Grundy County, and the number of overdoses are up.
Edwards believes her husband fell back to heroin after he hurt his back and was prescribed painkillers, including morphine, Norco and Vicodin.
His apartment was above Edwards’ uncle’s, and he is the one who made the early morning call to tell his niece that her husband was dead.
“I sank to a deep, dark nasty place for a while,” she said.
The couple had a daughter, Hannah, and Jenny’s son, Ryan Houck, was especially close to him.
“Ryan had nightmares and slept on the floor in my room for three months,” she said. “My daughter was 5 when it happened. She’s 7 now and still has a hard time.”
She said the hardest part of losing her husband to heroin is watching her children suffer and question why he left them.
“I was angry at him, then I felt guilt,” she said. “I wonder, what if I said come back home – would it be different?”
She said she doesn’t know if there is anything she could have done differently.
The last time they talked was the night before his body was found. He told her he wanted her to know he loved her, and that he would talk to her later.
He never did.
Edwards and her children are healing with help of family and friends.
“I’d want others who are in this position to know there is hope, always hope,” she said. “I’ve come from the lowest of lows, but I have faith in God. If it wasn’t for God, I wouldn’t be here. You can’t live in negativity. You have to remain positive.”
Anthony was alone when he died, but others are with friends using drugs when they overdose.
The 2012 “911 Good Samaritan Law” allows people to call and get help for someone who has overdosed without worrying about prosecution, as long as the amount of drugs fall into a personal use category.
“We’ve actually declined three prosecutions in Grundy County based on the 911 law,” Helland said. “The first thing we want them to do is seek help and save a life without worrying about getting arrested.”
Thursday’s forum – the second such to happen in Grundy County since the beginning of the year – will include professionals with more than 20 years of experience in treatment, recovery and the substance abuse field. Other panelists also will speak.
A retired captain from the Chicago Police Department, John Roberts, who is the co-founder of the Heroin Epidemic Relief Organization, will talk about the loss of his son Billy to heroin in 2010.
Children were not allowed at a similar January forum in Coal City, but Helland said he feels it’s important for them to attend with their parents so they can go home and have a dialogue about it.
“They can get this information with a click of the mouse online,” he said. “We had a lot of parents show up to the Coal City event, so we decided to allow them to attend with an adult this time.”
If You Go
What: “Heroin ... in my neighborhood?” forum
When: 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, April 10
Where: Minooka High School - Central Campus, 301 S. Wabena Ave. in Minooka
Who: Anyone under the age of 18 should be accompanied by an adult, parent or guardian