Rep. Bill Foster stood before 17 graduates of the Kane County Drug Rehabilitation Court and congratulated them for not letting addiction define their lives.
"You have made overcoming your struggle a defining moment in your life," said Foster (District 11). "You should be proud that you have not let drug addiction define who you are. You have made a decision to take your life back, to fight back. It is a decision we are all proud you made. We are all here to support you."
The Kane County Drug Rehabilitation Court is a probation program where those charged with non-violent drug offenses agree to undergo addiction treatment and abide by rules that include weekly court appearances and drug testing for a two year period, officials said. If all rules are met and fines paid, the underlying charge is dismissed, officials said.
One speaker at the graduation ceremony, Phil O., said he began using drugs at a young age and immediately got hooked on heroin. He stole from family and friends to support his habit, he said.
"I overdosed about seven times," Phil O. said. "I am literally a walking miracle to this day."
Foster was the key note speaker Thursday at the courthouse in St. Charles.
"(Foster) has supported our Drug Court by assisting us with grants and he has been a strong and consistent voice for those suffering from the disease of addiction," said 16th Circuit Associate Judge Marmarie J. Kostelny, who presides over the court.
The Congressman introduced a bill in April 2016 to examine the country's opioid treatment infrastructure including inpatient and outpatient capacity/availability at treatment centers in the U.S., Kostelny said. He has hosted town hall meetings and public forums about the heroin and opioid crisis, she said.
"In our community, like so many communities across the country, we are battling an epidemic," Foster said. "Drug abuse and addiction has claimed too many loved ones, shattered too many lives and broken too many families."
"The scourge of drug addiction is a problem that requires all of us to work together to fight back for the health and wellbeing of our families and our nation," he said.
Kane County's Drug Court has been on the frontline of those battles offering support, he said.
About three quarters of the spring graduating class reported their choice of drug was heroin, Kostelny said. "The fact they are here today for this celebration is truly a reason to celebrate," she said.
Shelly V. credited Drug Court and her sons with getting her through the depths of addiction. Her eldest son died earlier this year. "I didn't want to feel the pain at first," she said. "Now I want to feel the pain sober."
"After everything I've been through, I am still standing," Shelly V. said. "I have a little prayer. 'Dear God, looking back I realize how many times you carried me and did what I could not do for myself, for that I am grateful.' Remember, God is making a way."