ALTON — For many people, a mile-long walk down Milton Road was not about exercise … it was part of a larger effort to defeat one of the area’s nastiest killers.
The Walking for Wellness event, bringing attention to heroin addiction in the community and the desperate need to get those suffering into rehabilitation, was in memory of Shannon Green, a local husband and father who died of an overdose last March.
“I thought the event was a huge success and the organizers should be commended for their efforts,” said co-founder and Vice President of the Missouri Network for Opiate Reform and Recovery Chad Sabora, who spoke at the event. “Now is the time more than ever for our communities to come together and do everything we can to help reduce loss of life from overdoses through harm reduction and help the suffering addict get into treatment.”
Walking for Wellness, a nonprofit organization, was formed in 2013 following the heroin death of Nicky Vigna on Jan. 3 of that year. The group organized monthly walks as a way to raise awareness of the epidemic of heroin deaths plaguing the area. The Madison County chapter was later formed and may be the only one of its type operating in Greater Alton.
That Madison County chapter met at Maeva’s Coffee in Alton on May 30, along with dozens of supporters, to walk in remembrance of Green.
Family members say Shannon had been struggling with addiction for an extended period of time, although he had been clean for six months. After suffering from health problems and receiving pain medication, he began using heroin after his prescriptions were no longer available.
“We need to raise awareness,” said Shannon’s wife, Jana.
Since the death of her husband, Jana has made it her mission to help others facing the same problem. She is taking classes to become a substance abuse counselor and helping to organize events such as the walk.
“People don’t think this a problem because it doesn’t affect them directly, but it does affect them, either directly or indirectly, because it is a problem in the community,” she said.
She also stresses the importance of awareness, saying if more people pay attention and attend events like Walking for Wellness, more could be done to help addicts and keep others away from drugs completely.
In 2014 alone, 75 deaths in Madison County were attributed to drug overdoses; 22 were heroin-related.
Jana and Shannon lived together in the area with their four children. Jana’s son, Josh Flanagan, says the loss of Shannon has left an empty feeling in the family home.
“He wasn’t just my stepdad; he was a best friend,” Josh said.
This was the fourth walk in Madison County, and more events are being planned. Jana said the goal is to schedule a walk once per month.
“I think it is helping,” Josh said. “We are getting attention.”
To learn more on how to get involved, visit the Madison County group’s Facebook page at Walking for Wellness: Stop Heroin Madison County, Ill., or Sabora’s organization’s Facebook page at The Suffering Can End.