The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced that 93,000 people in the U.S. died by overdose in 2020 — a 29 percent increase from 2019.
Some of the blame for the increase falls to the COVID-19 pandemic as lockdowns closed places addicts could turn to for help. The isolation it brought also was a cause, experts say.
Among those 2020 overdose victims was Franky Ramirez, the older brother of Kim Ramirez, of Momence. Franky died in Florida in June 2020 at the age of 44.
“Franky died in parking lot in Florida and his body sat in his car for an entire week in 90-degree weather before he was found by the police department,” Kim said.
“He could not escape [drugs]. Our parents took him to Florida. He was in and out of treatment centers and halfway houses.”
Cocaine and fentanyl were found in Franky’s body. He was addicted to crack-cocaine, Kim said.
He had been sober for six years before relapsing, she said. During those six years, Franky became an electrician and moved to Chicago.
Franky was the second brother she lost to an overdose.
In August 2010, younger brother Jonathan Ramirez, 26, died of an overdose in a bedroom of the family’s home in Momence.
“My youngest brother found him foaming at the mouth,” Kim said.
Jonathan’s death occurred two months after he pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of a controlled substance in which he received 24 months of probation, according to court records.
Kim said Jonathan was addicted to any type of opioid.
Time to help
Kim said it was time to educate people, including parents, about the dangers of opioids.
For the month of August, which is Overdose Awareness Month, she has reserved three billboards in the community. Each will feature different educational messages.
“I think this is the best way to go with getting the message out. Drug addiction does not discriminate. It affects all races and professions,” Kim said.
The billboards will be located near River Road and U.S. Route 45/52 on Kankakee’s south side; at the intersection of Illinois Route 50 and Brookmont Boulevard, and south of Manteno on Illinois Route 50.
Kim said she prayed about what she could do to help educate others.
“I truly believe it does not get recognized as much as it should,” she said. “Parents need to watch their kids. [Prescription medications] need to put them in a lock box, even count how many pills are in a bottle.”
Kim, 41, herself has been sober for seven years. She has been a registered nurse for 20 years, adding she does not dispense medications.
Growing up in a household of addicts proved hard on her family. “It was hell,” Kim said, adding that her parents are sober and live in Florida.
Kim has two other siblings who do not struggle with addictions, she said.
Helping educate parents is key to the billboards, Kim said.
Also important to her is making people understand it takes many to combat the opioid epidemic.
“It’s going to take every person coming together to deal with this,” she said. “If this saves one child, it will be worth the effort.”
I’ve led a blessed and full life ... a big life. I’ve been fortunate in more ways than I can count, and I’m grateful for the many ways I’ve been blessed.
I think of you as a beautiful blessing in my life. The privilege to write to you every week has been an honor. So many of you have written me about my columns, and I’ve been grateful for each word. I’ve had the privilege to meet some, but for most, our relationship is through this column. That has not hindered the friendship I feel and my gratitude for you.
If you are a regular reader of my column, you know I was diagnosed with Stage 4 gastric cancer in mid-February 2020 and given 9-12 months to live. Along with my incredible oncologist, Dr. Pashtoon M. Kasi, at the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Iowa, we have fought this cancer with everything we have. It has at times been a fun battle with Dr. Kasi at my side, but as I’ve written many times before, there are a few diagnosis that a positive fight cannot overcome. It appears my battle with stomach cancer is one of them. So, this is my last letter to you in the form of my column, Positively Speaking.
The Daily Journal has always held a special place in my heart. Since my earliest memories in Hillcrest, sitting at my dad’s feet after he’d return from work and grab the newspaper. He’d grunt, groan, laugh and comment aloud as he read. Once he laid it down, I’d scour the pages for anything baseball.
I loved The Daily Journal back then and I love it today. It’s been one of the only constant things in my life from birth until this moment. The Small family occasionally takes an undeserved beating by a few in our county but I for one am grateful for their unwavering commitment to our community. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the privilege of serving you and your readers.
The fact you believe as I do, that positive, uplifting and encouraging content is important for your community speaks volumes about you. Thank you for publishing my weekly column, that has grown from its beginnings here to over 60 weekly publications across the nation. The Daily Journal and Mike Frey believed in me first and I’m grateful.
I’ve penned this column in anticipation of the day I can no longer write to you. I have passed the torch to my son, Toby Moore, a writer, actor, CEO, and now a columnist. Toby has instructions to send this column for publication upon my death.
So thank you for reading Positively Speaking. I hope you continue. I pray that my words have made a difference and positively impacted your life. I encourage you to be the light in the darkness.
So, here is where it comes to an end. May God bless you and yours. I wish you nothing but happiness and joy.
Warmest and kindest regards from your optimistic friend,
UPDATE: On Aug. 4, Gov. Pritzker issued a statewide mandate that masks must be worn indoors at all pre-K - 12 schools, reversing the state's previous stance that local school boards would be able to decide. Districts that planned a mask-optional policy, including Manteno CUSD 5, are no longer allowed to do so.
MANTENO — With the state now indicating decisions on COVID-19 precautions will be left up to schools, districts are in the process of making those calls and getting plans into place for the 2021-22 school year.
One local school district that has already responded is Manteno CUSD 5, which announced plans to make masks optional for students and staff in the upcoming school year.
The latest CDC guidance recommends the continued use of face masks indoors for unvaccinated people ages 2 and up. State officials and agencies have adopted the guidance, but they are giving individual schools and school boards the final say on local implementation.
Other CDC guidelines for schools include to maintain 3 feet of social distance when possible and to continue other mitigation efforts such as ventilation, handwashing and staying home when sick. The guidance also suggests the use of layered prevention strategies to protect those still ineligible for vaccines, such as children under age 12.
The Kankakee County Health Department has also recommended local schools adhere to the latest CDC guidance. The department confirmed as well that those fully vaccinated are not required to quarantine if they are exposed to a positive COVID-19 case.
Manteno was among local districts that had been pushing for local control in the 2021-22 year.
The district shared an email template on its Facebook page earlier this month that parents could send to a local senator or representative seeking support for districts to implement precautions as they saw fit, arguing that the guidance to come “must not be a one-size-fits-all solution.”
“We are very happy to have local control back,” Superintendent Lisa Harrod said after the updated guidance was released. “Things are definitely headed in the right direction.”
Manteno was also one of several local districts that had signed a letter in late June urging Gov. JB Pritzker, the Illinois State Board of Education and other officials to clarify guidance for the 2021-22 year, with an emphasis on timeliness for back-to-school planning.
Over 350 superintendents from throughout the state signed the letter, including in St. Anne, Momence and St. George.
Harrod noted that there may be more direction to come down the line.
“We were watching the pattern last year, and sometimes there’s a delay in the information or guidance,” she said. “At this point, we’re planning what’s best for our students, keeping safety at the forefront.”
While masks will be optional, the schools will continue other mitigations wherever possible, including social distancing practices, Harrod said.
Flexibility will be key next year, as COVID-19 numbers in the area could change, she noted.
“We are encouraging parents to make their own decisions [about masks for their children], but we will also be watching COVID-19 metrics in the area closely,” she said. “If the numbers start climbing, we could go back to requiring masks.”
Harrod said one of the most common concerns coming from parents was regarding masks, with most expressing that they wanted personal choice in the matter.
However, implementing a mask-optional policy was “easier said than done” before state officials confirmed that the decision was going to be left up to schools, she said.
“Next year, the goal is to strike a balance between a sense of normalcy coupled with keeping everyone safe,” Harrod said.
The first day of school for Manteno will be Aug. 18.
Kankakee County recently announced that its bond rating by Moody’s improved and is now associated as a positive outlook analysis.
The county’s rating increased from Ba2 to Baa3 which puts the county in “investment grade” status as of July 7, according to a news release from Board Chairman’s Andy Wheeler. A bond rating, similar to an individual’s credit score, is both an indicator of the financial health and planning for the county and also directly tied to interest rates for bonds and other funding mechanisms.
“The improved bond rating provides investors and our citizens an independent affirmation that what we are doing is working, and that we are heading in the right direction,” Wheeler said in the release. “Despite the challenges we faced during the pandemic, the county continues to operate efficiently and be a conservative champion of tax dollars. We are on the right path, and the financial experts agree.”
Moody’s Investors Service provides investors with credit ratings, risk analysis, and research for stocks, bonds, and government entities, according to investopedia.com.
Among other benefits, a higher bond rating saves taxpayers’ dollars and opens up more favorable financing options. The rating costs the county less to do business.
“The rating upgrade shows the teamwork of the county board, elected officials, employees and department heads,” said board member and finance chair Steve Liehr in the news release. “The responsible decisions of those who spend taxpayer dollars allow the county board to maintain a budget, one that wiped out a budget deficit and created a now-positive balance in funds.”
Kankakee County had been in “non-investment status” since 2015, and this upgrade provides investors and county residents evidence of a resurgent financial presence, as well as a positive future prognosis, according to the release.
Key indicators in the improvement are positive balances in the pension, tort, and general funds, elimination of borrowing outside funds for operations, reduction in accounts payable time, dramatically reduced interfund borrowing, and now the improved bond rating.