GRANITE CITY — A year ago this month, tragedy struck the Tolbert family.
On Oct. 9, 2014, Jeremiah Tolbert died of a heroin overdose just three weeks before his 32nd birthday.
“He was a super-smart guy,” Warren Tolbert, Jeremiah’s father, said. “Once he started with drugs, he was never clean long enough to establish a life for himself.”
After Jeremiah’s death, Warren decided to do something about it. He started an organization called Racers Against Heroin to promote heroin awareness.
“My husband started it weeks after he died,” said Lisa Tolbert, Warren’s wife. “That’s the way he grieved. He jumped on it and started to get the word out there and before you know it, we were growing and growing.”
On Saturday, Racers Against Heroin held its first rally at Johnson Road General Baptist Church.
“He (Warren) worked so hard to get to where we’re at right now,” Lisa said. “We just keep getting the word out and having more and more people. That’s what you’ve got to do.”
Organizations such as Bethany Place in Belleville, Nar-Anon in Glen Carbon and Life Support in Alton, members from the Granite City Fire Department and Madison County Coroner Steve Nonn attended the rally. Nonn was a guest speaker.
“We got a letter in the mail, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to come over here in Granite City and get the word out about Narcan training,” said Hannah Vesper, prevention director at Bethany Place.
A car show featured several antique cars, including a 1932 Ford coupe.
“He (Warren) is a big race fan and the 3D race car (that we had in the car show) has our sticker on it,” Lisa said. “A friend of ours has a dad who belongs to a car club and she said, ‘I’ll call him and see what we can do.’ A lot of them came from his car club. Any time we can get an old car, my husband loves it.”
Capt. Bryan Schmidtke and firefighters Trevor Herderhorst, Brian Brinson and Megan O’Brien represented the Granite City Fire Department. Herderhorst had advice for people who know someone with a heroin addiction.
“If you see that they have a problem, say something,” Herderhorst said. “Say something for them and reach out. Hopefully, we can get everybody doing their part to end this terrible addiction.”
Warren initially promoted the organization through social media and attended other Metro East rallies.
“Basically, I went out on my own and started going to other organizations and see what they were doing,” Warren said. “I’m not by any means a licensed drug counselor or anything like that. I’m just a mad dad.”
Warren said Lisa has been a big help in promoting the organization.
“My wife really had a hard time getting involved in it with me,” Warren said. “A mother’s grief and a father’s grief are two different things. She was really torn up and I was fighting mad. She’s come around now and she has done some tremendous things with the organization with us already and she’s greatly responsible with a lot of the paperwork getting done and behind-the-scenes things. We make a good team and I hope to grow the organization large enough that I could actually help fund rehab. That’s my ultimate goal. I can build an organization that we can break the stigma.”
Heroin overdose deaths continue to climb in Madison County. A total of 28 people have fatally overdosed from the drug this year, compared to 26 last year.
“There are so many people out there who don’t have a clue,” Warren said. “I’ve talked to numerous people and they were like, ‘I didn’t realize heroin was that bad.’ There are more people dying from it than car accidents. That’s what really got the ball rolling for me.”
Warren said for a year, he put a lot of time and effort into the organization.
“I felt pretty empty,” he said. “I felt like I had to do something after his (Jeremiah’s) passing. It’s a senseless death. So many people are dying from it and I thought maybe I can make a difference.”
Warren said he will continue to promote heroin awareness throughout the Metro East.
“Junkies aren’t working,” he said. “Addicts aren’t working. They don’t have a job. They’re too busy out getting drugs. When it’s time for somebody to get clean, there are no resources out there to do it. There are a lot of different areas that I wanted to come with this, but my main goal is to be out there and make the mainstream population aware that this is going on.”