Be vigilant. Pay attention to your instincts. Use your nose.
Those were among the words of advice Anthony Alvarado shared during a recent program about substance abuse.
“What can I tell my kids?” is what he hears wherever he goes.
Alvardo encourages parents to talk to their children about their beliefs, tell them it is OK to not be like everyone else, and to be open about any addictions family members may have.
Consistent conversations about the issue are key, he said.
Alvarado and Douglas Darby are the co-founders of Rise Together, a Fox Cities-based advocacy group made up of recovering addicts, family members, friends, advocates and professionals.
They spent March 2 in Waupaca, where they spoke to middle school students in the morning, high school students in the afternoon and community members in the evening.
Approximately 200 people attended the evening program, which was open to the public.
“It’s encouraging to see the community come together, to make an impact in a positive way,” said Andrew Whitman, Waupaca’s recreation programmer.
He helped organize last week’s program.
Darby said they seek to educate youth not only about prescription drugs and heroin but also about anxiety and depression.
“Just because you have a bad day, you don’t have to turn to a substance,” he said.
Both Darby and Alvarado are in long-term recovery.
They and others involved in Rise Together bring faces and voices to recovery while also advocating for more prevention and treatment.
Addiction is a difficult topic to talk about and for people to understand, Alvarado said.
Darby described it as a nationwide issue, saying drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in the country.
“We live in a world of instant gratification,” he said. “Let kids know it is OK to have a bad day and maybe a pill is not the best thing to have.”
Darby said it is time to start treating people individually and to get ahead of the issue by giving children knowledge.
People abuse drugs and then decide to become sober for different reasons, he said.
Addiction is a disease and is sometimes hard to overcome on the first, second or even third attempt, said Brigette Henschel.
That is one thing Henschel learned when her daughter, Amalia, went through treatment in 2011 and 2012.
“She had our full support. It was truly a team effort,” Henschel said.
As she has done numerous times, Henschel shared the story about her daughter, describing her as a typical All-American girl, who excelled in athletics, got good grades and as a senior year in high school, attended the University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley part of every school day.
After Amalia’s first year of college, her parents noticed she was having a hard time getting motivated.
Since she was over 18, they gave her space.
Henschel said they also knew their daughter was doing some partying, but they did not know the type of partying until they found marijuana and marijuana pipes in her bedroom and car and then prescription pills for which she had no prescription.
They offered to help her. She blew them off.
In the fall of 2011, they did an intervention and put Amalia in a 30-day treatment program in Oshkosh, followed by a 90-day treatment program in Fond du Lac.
When Amalia completed the 90-day program in early 2012, from what her family saw, she “looked like a changed person and heading in the right direction,” Henschel said.
On April 11, 2012, Amalia told her parents she was going to hang out with a friend she had not seen in a while.
What they did not know was their daughter’s friend had to work until 11 p.m., and Amalia had called another “so-called friend,” someone they did not know.
“This person gave her heroin at his house, according to the police report,” Henschel said. “Then they walked to a bar in Redgranite. Within 15 minutes, Amalia left the bar and was found dead less than 100 yards from that bar.”
Amalia was 21 when she died on April 12, 2012.
“No parent should ever have to go through losing a child they love so dearly,” said Henschel, who placed an urn filled with Amalia’s ashes on a table when she began talking.
Not a day goes by without Henschel and her husband hearing about another death or drug bust.
“Heroin is the most addictive drug on the street and the only one you can overdose on the first time,” she said.
She tells her story to let people know it can happen to them and so they take action.
Alvarado said he grew up in a family of addicts and defines what he does today as “purpose driven.”
During the last 15 months, he and Darby have made more than 140 different presentations.
“We want to build consistent programs and curriculum in schools,” Alvarado said.
When they say “rise together,” they talk about community participation.
Darby wants to see involvement of businesses. Alvarado encouraged those in attendance to be role models in the community.
“Talk to your local legislators,” he said. “If there’s a lack of treatment, talk about it. If there’s a lack of prevention, talk about it.”