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‘Recovery is possible’: Galesburg group works to prevent overdoses, end the stigma of addiction

Jane Carlson
Tri States Public Radio
Attendees of the International Overdose Awareness Day vigil in Galesburg assemble candles.

As the sun set in Galesburg on Wednesday night, dozens descended on the public square wearing t-shirts that read “End Overdose.”

They were there to commemorate International Overdose Awareness Day, to hand out Narcan, and to speak honestly about addiction and overdose.

Recovery is possible

Leann Courson was the first to speak, telling the crowd that addiction is not a moral failing – and she never wanted to be addicted to drugs and alcohol.

“It happened because I have a disease,” Courson said. “I have a disorder of my mind. I needed treatment and I needed help. So we need to end the stigma surrounding substance use.”

Courson is in recovery and now heads the Recovery-Oriented System of Care program – or ROSC – at Bridgeway in Galesburg.

ROSC is a state-sponsored program that brings community resources and those affected by addiction together through regular meetings and events, such as the vigil.

It’s meant to nurture a culture of recovery and reduce all barriers to treatment.

“That is the main focus of the ROSC,” Courson said. “Recovery is possible.”

A moment of silence

Courson then asked those in attendance who are in recovery to raise their hands and for the crowd to give them a round of applause.

Michelle Dennison is among those that raised their hands.

Dennison is now a peer recovery support specialist at Bridgeway, and she’s planned the Galesburg vigil the last two years.

“If we could all gather together, we want to take a moment of silence for everybody that we have lost to overdose. Everything I do is for my friend Derek,” Dennison said.

Tri States Public Radio
Jane Carlson

As gatherers held their candles high, there was joy and pride in the air for those in recovery, building the best possible lives for themselves.

There were also hugs and tears for those struggling with addiction, for their families -- and for those lost to the disease.

“There is a poster board over there if you want to write the names of the people you love that you’ve lost to overdose,” Dennison said.

‘Like losing a brother’

At the vigil, Codie Callies of Galesburg held his candle behind a black and white photo of someone he lost to overdose.

“I am here tonight in support of my nephew Dylan who we lost just over a year ago on June 25 of 2021 due to fentanyl overdose,” Callies said. “Dylan was 25.”

Jane Carlson
Tri States Public Radio

Callies said Dylan struggled for years, and he went to rehab five times, but his nephew would be there for anyone no matter what he was going through with his addiction.

“He was my protector. For me, being the youngest of the family, me and my sister are 14 years apart, he was more of the little brother I never had,” Callies said. “So, for me, it was like losing a brother.”

Callies said getting involved with Bridgeway and the ROSC council after Dylan’s death helped the family grieve and support each other -- and to better understand addiction, reduce the stigma, and help others.

“We are, and we were, one of those in thinking , oh that would never happen to us,” he said.

ROSC in Galesburg serves Knox, Warren, Henderson, and Henry counties, and ROSC in Macomb serves McDonough and Fulton counties.

More information about ROSC is available online.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

Jane Carlson covers west central Illinois and southeast Iowa for Tri States Public Radio.