Group brings care and compassion to addicts


By Shannon Cobb, Staff Writer

The pandemic we have been facing is an entirely different one that than the epidemic that has been ravaging our communities for years. Opiate addiction can be extremely tragic for the users and the users’ families. Besides treatment centers, which not all users are ready to go to, people struggling with addiction have few places to turn to — even in our McHenry County. That was, until Live4Lali hit the scene.

Live4Lali, is a nonprofit organization that has been silently saving many lives in McHenry and Lake County. They focus on substance use, recovery, and in-harm reduction. They are doing much for an often overlooked and underserved population. They train and pass out a lifesaving drug called Narcan which reverses opiate related overdoses and prevents fatalities. They help people all around Lake and McHenry counties, wearing purple — a sign of hope for many.

Now a substance user does not have to feel like they are alone. The Stigma Crusher — an outreach point of contact in the form of a big purple van — goes around passing out necessary supplies for safer drug use. They specialize in harm reduction, which helps in several different ways. Harm reduction is a broad term that refers to a wide range of health and social services and practices that apply to substance users. It is grounded in justice, human rights, reducing the negative health, social, and legal impacts associated with drug use.

If you show up to the location where the Stigma Crusher van stops — at locations throughout the county — you will find peer support, grief support, addiction medical doctors, social workers, and even personal protective equipment and other necessary personal care items for daily living. The offer Fentanyl test strips, alcohol wipes, and even supplies for safer sex. They have it all available to whoever needs it — all for free and without any judgement.

According to Michelle Kavouras, McHenry County Program Manager at Live4Lali, the services are open to all. “We provide education on how to safely use, testing your drugs for Fentanyl, prevention of spreading communicable disease, connection, resources including counseling, jobs, public aid, and Naloxone distribution and training,” she said.  “We also go out into tent cities and provide different services to anyone who wants it.”

They offer safe supplies, social work, access to treatment and many more services that are a vital safety net and support for people who use illicit drugs. It can make all the difference to have immediate access to recovery coaches, case management, a plethora of different peer groups about grief and other relevant topics. Sometimes access to treatment is based on your insurance provider, location, and other factors.  It’s time that we stop the stigma of the way we treat addiction and use more humanity in the process.

Often this population can be ignored. This seems impossible, when according to the National Institute of Drug Use, overdoses from opiate-related substances in 2019 have increased to 70,300 deaths. It would be much higher if not for the lifesaving drug, Narcan (Naloxone). With suppliers now lacing drugs with Fentanyl — an even stronger and more potent opiate — being mixed with heroin, it can be very deadly for the unsuspecting user who is about to inject it into their body.

Narcan reverses opiate overdoses. If a person is not responding and not breathing, a shot of Narcan in the thigh or a nasal spray dose, can literally save a life. If more people took the 10-minute training, the overdose statistics would drop. You can easily get trained by contacting Live4Lali, and help be a partner in this epidemic. You can be trained for free and carry Narcan on you, in case of an emergency.

Even during the COVID lockdown, the people at Live4Lali did not stop — in fact they ramped the services up to still be able to help serve their clients. From online services, support group, to even a hotline that you can call for help — they will physically meet you where you are —  all to help make sure that you are safe. If a person is not ready or able to stop using drugs or get treatment, they often do not have access to alternative resources. Live4Lali is making a difference by making the process safer and  providing vital supplies that can reduce harm, infection.

“The best part is seeing that ray of hope when we meet people where they are at, without any judgement,” Kavouras said. “When we connect with someone and let them know that they are not alone and no matter what their needs are, whether they want to continue to use, or want treatment that we can be supportive in any situation.”

Kavouras points out the  hardest parts of working in this area. “The worst part is our broken system. Stigma and lack of evidence-based practices when it comes to providing resources for our participants is a challenge. Treatment programs claim to be individualized, however, working in this field for 5 years, I rarely see where people are not all receiving the exact same treatment at facilities that make millions each year.”

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), just under 11 percent (2.5 million) received care at an addiction treatment facility in 2018. SAMHSA also estimates that the market for addiction treatment was about $35 billion per year. That leaves millions who go without treatment, so programs — and the people who work for Live4Lali — help mend that gap in care.

It’s time to change the way we think about addiction and the people who suffer from it. Many times people do not understand until it affects them. If we can be proactive and help by seeing things in a different light, it would help people in our local communities and across the country. People who suffer from addiction are just regular people like you and I. That have usually been through trauma and deserve our compassion.

If anyone is interested in becoming a part of this life-saving organization, they can check out their website or contact Michelle Kavouras at (815) 388-7051.