On Oct. 28, the Wautoma Area School District welcomed the group Rise Together from the Fox Valley area to speak to students and community members about the growing problem of heroin and prescription drugs in Wisconsin and the United States.
Throughout the day, Rise Together President and Co-Founder Anthony Alvarado, Co-Founder and Vice President Douglas Darby, Youth Outreach Director Nadine Machkovech, and performers Alexander Jay and Cullen Sampson spoke to the students at Parkside Middle School and Wautoma High School about their stories as well as prevention, treatment, advocacy, and research.
Following the student presentations, three members of Rise Together, including Alvarado, Machkovech, and Danielle Hinz, presented a community event to share their stories of recovery and to help educate parents and community members on addiction.
Rise Together President and Co-founder Anthony Alvarado addressed the community members at the evening event stating that Rise Together shares stories, which people can relate to, and educates the community about the stigma of addiction, by “giving a voice to the voiceless.”
Since Rise Together was founded in 2013, the group has spoke to about 70,000 people about addiction and worked with 150 schools in Wisconsin. “When we started, we hoped to change one life, and today I definitely met that one person,” said Alvarado while speaking to community members.
Alvarado, who is in long-term recovery and grew up in Racine, said he started using substances at the age of 15. Over the years he had lost friends and family members to addiction, and has chosen to not let being an addict define him. “I am first a person, a person in long-term recovery. I am way more than my disease and I am happy in my recovery,” he said.
Alvarado said in the past decade there have been 125,000 opioid-based overdoses throughout the United States, and each day 126 people lose their life to their addiction. “This is an addiction crisis, and it’s increasing in Wisconsin,” he said. “It was hard to see the number of students today who have lost somebody to addiction. This is not just a big city issue.”
The drug addiction crisis is impacting everyday people, and those currently are struggling with addiction are often discriminated against and repressed said Alvarado. He added that if addiction were any other disease there would be people looking for a treatment or cure. “We can’t ignore this issue any longer. There is a stigma of shame and guilt, and addicts don’t want to seek treatment,” said Alvarado. “We have to hit rock bottom and unfortunately for us it is either prison or death.”
He believes that there is a need to educate the public and raise awareness. “We can’t incarcerate out of this issue,” said Alvarado. “This is a public health issue.”
By speaking to students and youth throughout Wisconsin, Rise Together has learned by telling their stories, 92 percent of students enjoy the presentation and 90 percent want to see it again.
“We need to build a new conversation around addiction,” said Alvarado. “Everyone deserves to be heard. A recovery community can be built starting with strong families,” he added. “Have an open dialogue and supportive conversations. The most dangerous thing a parent do is say, ‘not my kid.’”
Rise Together Youth Outreach Director Nadine Machkovech, originally from Beaver Dam, spoke to the community about her story, including how she grew up in a family of addicts and the fact that there isn’t enough education surrounding the issue.
“We need to understand addiction and need to understand that it is a disease,” said Machkovech. “Many feel shame and guilt for mistakes and blame ourselves. I didn’t know that since my parents had an addiction problem I would.”
Machkovech said that education is important and to make students and the community aware of the fact that addicts don’t choose this lifestyle. “I did not choose to be an addict,” she said.
While presenting at schools and youth centers across Wisconsin, Machkovech has found that students are willing to share their stories and talk about their struggles. Through her recovery, Machkovech has learned her story is important, and is glad she found recovery at an early age as it has allowed her to “no longer believe she is a mistake.”
When she was three years old, Machkovech’s parents divorced and she didn’t really realize what was going on. “My older sister did and struggled with it,” she said. “She made poor decisions and often blamed myself and couldn’t understand why. Was I not a good enough daughter or not a good enough sister?”
Due to the fact her sister was getting into trouble, Machkovech felt growing up she was not given much attention. “I was looking for love and affection elsewhere,” she said.
When she was invited to her first party on homecoming, Machkovech didn’t think it was a big deal since they would only be drinking. “Partying became my main thing,” she said. “I didn’t want to go to school without getting high. It was easier to pretend to be fine than talk about it.”
Later, Machkovech said she was given a Percocet by a family member. “She didn’t have the education to know what Percocet was,” she said. “Since it was prescribed to a doctor it should be okay. She didn’t know Percocet is synthetic heroin.”
After taking her first Percocet, Machkovech became highly addicted to opioids. “I used more and more and the addiction led me to places I didn’t want to be,” she said. “It happened too fast.”
At 19 years old, Machkovech lost her insurance and was given the opportunity to move to Appleton to stay with her healthier sister who helped her get clean. “It is not easy to talk about,” she said. “I never want to go through detox again.”
When looking to get treatment, insurance companies only provide treatment for 28 days. “It isn’t enough time,” said Machkovech. “Detox alone can take two weeks or longer.”
She added currently there are 180,000 active heroin users in Wisconsin and less than 100 detox beds available. “If all active users wanted to get help tomorrow, they would have nowhere to go,” said Machkovech.
Having lost one of her friends to a heroin overdose, Machkovech knows finding recovery early helped her. “You don’t have to hit rock bottom and end up in prison or dead,” she said. “There is more to life.”
Princeton native Danielle Hinz is an addict in long-term recovery and has been with Rise Together for six months.
While speaking to the community at WHS, Hinz said she had been an addict for six years and started using substances at 12 years old. “Drugs were in my family, my father used and my mother abused alcohol until I was 10 years old,” she said. “I took that to my advantage and thrived on being a junky.”
When Hinz made the decision to get help and at 19 years old she entered a 28-day treatment facility, which she admitted was not long enough. “Within three hours of leaving the treatment center I was right back at it,” she said.
Eventually the Green Lake County Judge sent Hinz to prison for five years, “two years in, three years out.” She said the judge “said he didn’t know what to do with me and had no other alternative.”
While in prison, Hinz entered an earned release program where she was able to receive six months of treatment, which included 12 hours of classes to help her uncover the root of her addition, including why she was using, what worked, what didn’t work, as well as coping skills. “It took me nine months of treatment,” she said. “I am thankful because I received the best treatment the state offered but I had to go to prison.”
Hinz said once she was out of prison she did well until the ankle bracelet came off. She relapsed and told her parole officer what she needed to be healthy.
“One year later, I’m working for Rise Together, and made changes to my life. I am working full-time and have been trusted with a management position,” she said. “Out of prison my number one goal is helping somebody. I just wish when I was in high school somebody did this for me.”
During the presentation, many in the audience felt the reasons why people are using is because of increased peer pressure. The fact is that drinking is considered socially acceptable, especially in Wisconsin, the stresses associated with home and school, and the accessibility of drugs and alcohol. “You can get heroin quicker than marijuana in some places,” stressed Alvarado.
By speaking at Parkside and the high school, the members from Rise Together did learn the majority of the students in Wautoma believe there is a drug problem in the community as well as within the high school. “If no one talks about the issue nothing is going to change,” said Alvarado.
To learn more about Rise Together, to find resources for help, or to learn how to join the Rise Together Street Team, visit www.weallrisetogether.org.