CARTHAGE, Ill. -- Naperville native Tim Ryan has experienced the worst sides of the opioid epidemic.
A heroin addict, Ryan spent 14 months in prison. Six months after his release, his son, Nick, 20, died of a heroin overdose.
"When my son died, every Facebook message and text was drug-related," he said. "Parents don't know what they don't know."
Ryan shared his story Tuesday night during the Opioid Crisis Next Door, a substance abuse awareness presentation at Carthage's Legacy Theater. Naperville police Detective Rich Wistocki also spoke on cellphone monitoring and cybercrimes.
"It's empowering parents to let them know what's going on with technology," Ryan said. "A mother's intuition is right. If they think something is going on, something is going on."
Ryan has been sober for 4 1/2 years. He is the founder of A Man in Recovery Foundation and chief marketing officer for Banyan Treatment Centers; has been featured in national publications and on television shows; and recently published a memoir, "From Dope to Hope: A Man in Recovery."
Ryan had simple advice.
"Quit being friends with your kids. Be parents," he said. "With my son, I wasn't his parent. I was his friend, and he's dead now."
Ryan was accompanied by his son Max, 19, who also spoke on growing up with a drug-addicted father and losing his brother.
The Opioid Crisis Next Door was coordinated by the Hancock County Opioid Task Force, a partnership of health and law enforcement professionals.
"The task force has two prongs," Memorial Hospital CEO Ada Bair said. "One is education and prevention. The other piece centers around what else we need to do for treatment and recovery."
Bair hopes the task force is getting a jump on the heroin problem in Hancock County before it becomes critical. No one under 18 has died of an opioid overdose in Hancock County, but she fears it might already be out of control.
"Our eyes were opened through our kids today," Bair said. "Tim and his son did a program for the schools. Tim asked the kids to raise their hands if they knew somebody who used alcohol. He went down the tier and started to get into opioids and cocaine. A third of the high school and middle school students still had their hands up. We have an issue."
Funding for the presentations was provided by a grant from the National Association of County and City Health Officials. The task force is seeking a federal grant from the Department of Human Services, which would spark "all kinds of plans for the next three years," said Maureen Crawford, Hancock County Health Department grants administrator.
"It will become more and more prevalent as time goes on," Crawford said. "The best thing we can do is educate our people; educate our educators, our health care providers and parents; and create a climate where people don't shove it under the rug."
The mock bedroom of a teen was displayed in the Legacy lobby before the presentation. The exhibit, "Hidden in Plain Sight," was meant to show how easily drugs and paraphernalia can be hidden from family. It is a tool of Community Partners Against Substance Abuse, which serves Putnam and Bureau counties.
"Some things are very obvious. Some things are not," CPASA Director Dawn Conerton said. "If you see something obvious, there may be something not so obvious next to it."
CPASA travels the state, working with addicts and helping other groups establish themselves. "This display is our success story," Conerton said. "We had a father walk through this room one time, and he saw a fake flask that looked familiar. That was the starting point of a conversation."
If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction and seeking treatment, call 1-844-611-HOPE.