Voices Of Chicagoland's Opioid Crisis: Nick Kanehl And Marty Cook
The “avalanche” started a few years ago, says Marty Cook.
Officials in Maine Township, which includes a bunch of northwest suburbs like Des Plaines and Park Ridge, began seeing a trend: A lot of young people were seeking drug recovery services, he says.
So in 2015, he helped create the Maine Township Recovery Connection program, where he currently works as the group’s director.
“Traditionally, the 12-step programs and stuff, I don’t think, were prepared for the avalanche of young people,” he says. “So we were quickly able to get government funding to put on programs to support them when they left treatment, so social events and other things to get them connected to people who are also trying to stay sober.”
Cook, who also works as an events director for the Gateway Foundation Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center, joined Morning Shift host Jenn White along with Nick Kanehl, who is a peer support advocate at Gateway. They talked about creating a community to help young people recovering from opioid addictions. Below are interview highlights.
The challenges of working with people in their late teens and early 20s
Marty Cook: I always say that if they are in school on a Tuesday and they skin their knee, there’s a ton of support for them. But when you leave high school in America and you’re not connected with college or family, you’re on your own. You don’t know where to go. So if you have that problem and you also have an addiction, where you’re often strayed from your family and friends, you’re out there and still not old enough to really learn the steps needed to take care of yourself.
So a lot of them are transitioning in their housing — they’re not really sure where they’re living, they don’t own homes. So housing is one part. Learning to find a career and the social part, which is the huge part for young people because being social is such a huge part of being a young person when you’re 18 to 32.
Jenn White: One of the staples of the township program is Friday night meetings. Explain what happens there.
Marty: We do it on Fridays because obviously that’s the night that everybody wants to go out. We’ve organized younger people who have been sober longer and we bring them into a room, and then we invite newer people to come. It’s all young people. So a young person gets up and tells their story about how they used to use drugs and alcohol, what happened, and how they live their life sober.
And we end it with food from a local restaurant, so it kind of turns into a banquet. So they get the serious message of recovery. I just imagine that the power, particularly for younger people, to walk into a room and they think their life is over because they’ll never have fun again, and when they walk into a room, they see there’s 50 other people their own age that look just like them, who are young and who are laughing and having fun, but share the same common disease of addiction but are overcoming it and living life.
Nick Kanehl: When I was in high school, my upbringing was a little bit rough. A lot of drugs and alcohol were used within my family, with my dad and brother, and my experience was like, I don’t want drink, I don’t want drugs, because I saw what had happened to my family. And my parents ended up getting divorced.
So at a certain point, I started to get pushed out of the neighborhood. A lot of the families around there kinda saw me as, like, you know, my family was dysfunctional, so I ended up drinking and drugging with friends.
I pushed it off until I was in ninth grade, and I had that experience where I was like, “Now I understand why people do this.” And later down the road in high school, I wasn’t very successful in class and started getting connected to worse and worse crowds.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire interview, which was adapted for the web by Hunter Clauss.