By Tom Siebert
“My name is Tim, and I’m a grateful recovering alcoholic and heroin addict.”
With those sobering words, Tim Ryan introduced himself not to a 12-step meeting Wednesday night but to an audience of more than 200 people gathered at the Naperville Municipal Center, west of Chicago.
“This is a great community but I’m sick and tired of burying people,” Ryan said, explaining that he has attended more than 113 funerals for those who have died from drugs during the past three and a half years.
But the founder of the A Man In Recovery Foundation said that he has also steered more than 3,000 addicts into treatment during that period, some into Transformations, a south Florida rehabilitation center for which he works as national outreach director.
Ryan, who was sent to prison twice for drug- and alcohol-connected offenses, spoke at a community forum entitled “The Unforgettable Drug Program: The Cop and the Convict,” cosponsored by the local nonprofit group KidsMatter and the Naperville Police Department.
The “cop” in the forum’s title is Naperville police detective Rich Wistocki, who was contacted by Ryan shortly after he was released from prison in late 2013. The recovering addict was seeking the assistance of the law enforcement officer in his crusade against drug addiction.
Wistocki, a 27-year police veteran, was skeptical of Ryan’s motives. But after conducting his own investigation, he was convinced that the ex-convict had truly turned his life around. So the two teamed up to begin presenting their “cop and convict” seminar to communities throughout Illinois.
At the Naperville forum, Ryan captured the attention of the audience with his riveting story of alcohol abuse, drug addiction, and near death.
He grew up in Crystal Lake, spent much of his teens and twenties under the influence of alcohol and marijuana, but did not get hooked on heroin until he was 32. Still, he was a functioning addict, able to make big bucks as a “headhunter” for a tech-industry executive recruiting firm.
However, much of his lucrative salary went to support his $500-per-day heroin habit, rather than his wife and four children. He flirted with death every day. “I overdosed eight times and was pronounced clinically dead three times,” Ryan recounted.
In December 2010, Ryan had just shot heroin into his veins on Chicago’s West Side when he passed out in his mini-van, crashing into two vehicles. Paramedics administered two doses of the life-saving medication naloxone, which reverses the effects of heroin.
Ryan was charged with aggravated DUI, bailed out of jail, but continued to use heroin during a long, protracted court fight. It was during that time that he learned his teenage son Nick had also descended into drug addiction.
The father and son soon began using heroin together.
“I know it sounds crazy but that’s how Nick and I bonded,” Ryan told the incredulous crowd. “I was his friend when I should have been his father.”
In late 2012, Ryan was convicted and sentenced to prison. At that time there were 28 prisons in Illinois and only two offered residential drug treatment, one of them Sheridan Correctional Center.
So in his cell at the prison reception facility in Joliet, he prayed: “God, Higher Power, or whatever You are, please take away my obsession and compulsion, and I swear I will turn my will and life over to You. And please let me get to Sheridan!”
Ryan’s prayers were answered and he wound up at the treatment center, where he and other inmates became well versed in the Bible and the book Alcoholics Anonymous during his 13 months in prison. They went to meetings, participated in group therapy, and looked out for each other.
He was released in December 2014, and eight months later, his 20-year-old son Nick died of a heroin overdose. Ryan went to a 12-step meeting that night, and a month later, the grief-stricken father founded A Man In Recovery in memory of his late son.
Since then he has been getting addicts into treatment, running recovery groups, and teaming up with Wistocki to raise community awareness about drug abuse and prevention.
Ryan, a Naperville resident, has been featured in many publications such as Newsweek and USA Today. He also has appeared on several television programs, including Fox and Friends and The Steve Harvey Show. And his recovery story was the subject of an A & E documentary called “Dope Man.”
Wistocki’s segment of the forum was highlighted by tough talk to the many parents in the audience.
“There’s no such thing as privacy with children,” the detective told them. “All of you parents here tonight are responsible for your children. You are responsible for their devices.”
In an elaborate PowerPoint presentation, Wistocki showed the parents how to monitor their kids’ cellphones and computers to determine if they are purchasing and using drugs. He also suggested searching their rooms for other tell-tale signs of drug use.
“If your kids have a scale, it’s not because they are really smart in science,” the detective quipped, eliciting nervous laughter among the crowd.
But there was nothing funny about the statistics read to the audience by Naperville Deputy Police Chief Jason Arres. The police department has responded to 104 overdose calls so far this year, doubling the numbers of 2015 and 2016.
Arres said further that as of Nov. 8, there had been 29 heroin overdoses and five heroin deaths in the city this year. He added that thus far in 2017, there have been 56 prescription drug overdoses and no fatalities.
The good news is that 23 times this year drug users were saved from overdoses after receiving a dose of narcan, an antidote that was administered by either Naperville police or paramedics.
The deputy police chief also updated the community on a recently enacted department policy that allows drug addicts to turn themselves and avoid arrest, stating that 32 people have taken advantage of the treatment-alternative program.
“It’s not just about arresting people; it’s about helping them,” Arres asserted. “We are going to help them get treatment whether they can afford it or not.
“We cannot arrest ourselves out of this problem.”