Local woman creates agency to help deal with drug addiction
By Tracy Ouellette
Caught in the judicial system, traveling to hell and back or on a mortician’s slab are the three paths the lives of heroin users take once they try the addictive, all-consuming drug, officials said during a heroin summit held at Waterford High School in May.
Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling said, and Medical Examiner Michael Payne reiterated that grim future for most people who get sucked into the powerful heroin vortex.
For one local funeral director, it’s the last alternative that drove her to do something about the problem.
Cindi Schweitzer, of Integrity Funeral Services in Waterford, opened the doors to her funeral home three years ago and in that short amount of time has buried three community members who died of heroin overdoses. She’s helped two more families purchase headstones for loved ones who died from heroin overdoses and she helped yet another two families lay to rest recovered addicts who were so wracked with guilt over the devastation they wrought while they were addicted, they took their own lives – clean but unable to forgive themselves for hurting so many.
That’s seven lives lost directly and indirectly to heroin.
“It’s heartbreaking to look at such handsome or gorgeous young, vibrant people and see what these drugs do to them,” Schweitzer said. “It’s so unnecessary – pointless.
“It’s not just the person who died, either,” she continued. “These deaths paralyze the entire community. It goes so far beyond even the family, to friends, neighbors, co-workers. It impacts everyone in the circle of that person’s life.”
Schweitzer said understanding just how tough it is to beat heroin addiction didn’t come easy to her. It’s almost impossible for someone who hasn’t experienced it to even understand.
“I remember talking to a girl who got clean and it finally clicked. She told me it’s like having the worst flu ever, it’s a slow steamroller crushing their bones, and that they know it’s coming. They know what they’re in for and they’ll do anything, I mean anything, to stop it from coming.”
Schweitzer said in every case she’s seen, without exception, they got hooked on heroin under pretty much identical circumstances.
“It’s the ‘Highway to Heroin,’” she said. “It’s always the same story. They start out with painkillers, whether it’s because they needed to take them for physical pain after an injury or surgery, or they take them for emotional pain to self-medicate. Then they need more and more and before they know it, they’re using heroin because they can’t get the pills anymore.”
Schweitzer said that’s one of the reasons why this is a community problem. It starts in the medicine cabinet.
“Get rid of your old drugs, she pleaded. “Don’t even keep them around. Take them to the police station, bring them to a drug takeback, just get rid of them.
“The sheriff’s right,” Schweitzer added. “We can’t arrest our way out of this. The only way to do this is to get the word out and educate people.”
Schweitzer said the face of this problem is not what everyone thinks; it’s not an inner city, low-income, uneducated problem.
“It’s the exact opposite. These are vibrant, talented, athletic, beautiful people from good families with jobs and full lives.”
Schweitzer described how difficult it was just as an outsider to watch the devastation in the families she serves and how it drove her to action.
“This is not how we want to make our profit,” Schweitzer said. “I had to do something.”
So, about a year and a half ago, with the help of a group of youth at Waterford’s Community United Methodist Church and community leaders, Schweitzer created iCare.
“It began with me trying to educate myself about the problem I’d been thrown into the middle of.”
iCare offers recovery resources to anyone in need; it’s a place to go for support and most importantly, said Schweitzer, love. The Christian-based non-profit is actively recruiting new members and financing to expand the programs it makes available to the community.
Starting at the end of June, in conjunction with Fox River Christian Church, iCare is helping to expand the Celebrate Recovery at Community United Methodist Church 455 S. Jefferson St., 455 S. Jefferson St., Waterford, and will offer a youth recovery program at the same time as the adult program, 6:30 p.m. every Tuesday.
Schweitzer said her next project for iCare is to establish a “heroin house” in the area. She wants to base it on the Oxford House plan (www.oxfordhouse.org), as a self-run, self-supported, addiction recovery house where the inhabitants have jobs, pay rent and work toward their future with the help of the 24-hour support offered at the residence. Fundraising for this has already begun.
“We have a lot more to do, because this problem isn’t going away.”
For more information on iCare, go to www.icare-local.org or call Schweitzer at (262) 514-4600.