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Group to help addicts overcome heroin

Matt Barham Mount Greenwood lost his battle with addictiSeptember. He was 29. | Supplied photo

Matt Barham, of Mount Greenwood, lost his battle with addiction in September. He was 29. | Supplied photo

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Updated: March 10, 2014 6:28AM



Surrounded by family members, Maureen Fleming celebrated her son’s 30th birthday last week with cake, streamers and balloons.

They sang “Happy Birthday” to her son, Matthew Barham, who was excited about turning 30 and eager to leave the “horrible 20s” behind, said Fleming, of Chicago’s Mount Greenwood community.

But Barham wasn’t at his party. He died of a heroin overdose in September while in a rehab program in Minnesota.

Fleming said her son battled with addiction to prescription drugs and, in recent years, heroin. He was on the road to recovery with an offer for a full-time job when he suddenly died, she said.

“When something like this happens, you only have a couple of choices. You can shrivel up or you can rally and see who else you can help,” Fleming said.

She and her older daughters, Erin Day and Cathaleen Novak, both of Evergreen Park, have rallied.

“There are so many people affected by this, more than anyone wants to admit,” Novak said. “And there are not a lot of resources in Cook County. There is nothing in this community.”

They and Fleming are out to change that and the stigma of addiction. They never gave up hope for Matt, and rather than be ashamed of his death, they have chosen to help others, they said.

“I don’t want my son’s life to be just another overdose,” Fleming said.

Inspired by John Roberts, of Homer Glen, who formed the Heroin Epidemic Relief Organization, or HERO, in Will County after his teenage son overdosed on heroin, they are creating Serenity Family Outreach to offer family support, community awareness and education and to work in collaboration with HERO.

“We are excited to start this organization and are happy Matt’s name will be remembered in such a positive way,” Novak said.

The first family support meeting will be at 7 p.m. March 3 at Jacob’s Well Church, 3450 W. Maple St., Evergreen Park. The group also plans a 5K walk/run on Sept. 21 at Circle Park in Evergreen Park to raise money for heroin awareness programs.

The three women attended a community forum last spring that HERO helped organize to learn more about the region’s heroin problem and to find more resources. Fleming has filled a three-ring binder with information on prevention, intervention and grief. The book is titled “Matt’s Message: Seek Serenity.”

“I could not learn enough about it,” said Fleming, who still attends Families Anonymous meetings and is eager to share what she has learned with others.

“Addiction affects the whole family,” Day said. “That’s not who Matt was. He didn’t want to be like that.”

“Addicts are people. They are sons, brothers, friends and uncles,” Novak said.

And as they demonstrated recently, the victims’ lives are worth celebrating.



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