A Highland Park father who lost his 23-year-old son to a heroin overdose attended President Barack Obama's State of the Union address Jan. 12 as the invited guest of U.S. Senator Mark Kirk.
Mark Filler has been working to prevent heroin deaths since his son Jordan overdosed in January 2014 after an eight-year battle with drug addiction. Coincidentally, the president's address fell on the two-year anniversary of Jordan's death.
Filler said Tuesday he was heartened that the President found the heroin epidemic important enough to mention at the beginning of his address to the nation.
"I am a political science junkie, so for me to just be in a room with all of Congress, the Supreme Court, the president, the vice president and the cabinet was pretty cool," Filler said.
Filler said his conversations with senators at a dinner before the speech confirmed that drugs are taking a toll across the country.
"Every one of the senators I spoke with, in their own states, have a major problem and it is definitely something they are talking about a lot," Filler said. "It touches everyone in a personal way," he said, adding, "They all have a story of a friend, a family member or important constituent who was deeply impacted by drugs."
Filler and his wife Julie brought the family's private battle into the open after their son died shortly after his release from a residential treatment facility in Arizona. They created the Jordan Michael Filler Foundation, which last year helped launch a Text-a-Tip program for students in Highland Park, Deerfield and Bannockburn. The service allows young people an anonymous means to intervene in a friend's drug problem or seek help for themselves.
Filler said he met with Kirk in Washington, D.C. last year while championing changes in health privacy rules so physicians and treatment facilities are able to communicate with parents when adult children over the age of 18. He discovered that Kirk was actively involved in the heroin issue as an advocate for making the drug naloxone more readily available. Naloxone can potentially save lives by reversing the effects of an opiate overdose.
Said Kirk in a prepared statement, "No family is safe from the heroin epidemic that is claiming a life, on average, every three days in the Chicago suburbs. Through programs like theJordan Michael Filler Foundation and my Anti-Heroin Task Force, we can make families more aware of the warning signs, prevent opioid prescription abuse and make naloxone more available."
Mark Filler, left, with daughter Jennifer, wife Julie and daughter Jessica. (Courtesy Filler family)In July, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration agreed to fast-track the approval of a nasal-spray form of naloxone that is less expensive and easier for first responders without medical training to administer, according to Kirk's press secretary. In a letter urging an accelerated approval process, Kirk pointed out that more than 1,000 residents of Chicago's suburbs could die from an opioid overdose during a typical, eight-year approval cycle.
Kirk also has advocated for medication-assisted therapy to treat opioid abuse and curb the side effects of withdrawal, according to his office.
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