KENOSHA, Wis. — About six months after he stopped using heroin, one of Jimpat Schweinsberg's closest friends died of an overdose.
Schweinsberg said that he had been an addict for years, had been in prison five times and had used heroin for a decade.
In the past, when hit with hardship, he turned to drugs. He didn't want to this time.
"My friend died, and I looked in the mirror and said, 'If I don't stop, one day that is going to be me,'" Schweinsberg said.
Rather than turn back to drugs, he decided to turn to trying to help others. He formed an online group called Stop Heroin in Kenosha, and began reaching out to others in recovery, trying to build a network of people who could both bolster each other and offer help to addicts looking to stop taking heroin, and to addicts' families looking for support.
Five years later, the Stop Heroin in Kenosha group has about 2,000 members.
The group recently held its third annual Stop Heroin picnic in Kennedy Park in Kenosha, offering free lunch, friendship and a chance to exchange stories for anyone who wanted to stop by, the Kenosha News reported.
Opioid and opiate addiction is an epidemic in Kenosha County, with overdose the leading cause of accidental death.
Last year, 57 people died of overdose, up from 54 the previous year. In March of this year, four people died of heroin overdoses in five days.
The county has worked to combat the problem through treatment programs, drug treatment court, education, and by the free distribution of Narcan, which can counteract opioid and opiate overdose.
At the recent picnic, there were representatives of the county health department and drug treatment court, along with volunteer organizations that provide support for people with addiction and mental illness.
Terri Peter and her daughter Jessica Latz, area coordinators with Angel Tree, which offers programs for prison inmates and families, were among those at the event.
Peter said she became involved with Angel Tree after her son became addicted to opioids, his addiction leading to stints in prison.
"It affected our family so much that we decided to do something," Peter said.
Through Angel Tree, a national organization led by church groups, they offered services, including Christmas gifts, to 264 children in Racine County and 190 children in Kenosha County who have parents who are incarcerated, along with fellowship and programming for people in prison or jail, or those who are recently released.
Schweinsberg said in helping others through his organization he has become stronger himself.
"If one person doesn't go through the 30 years of misery I did, then I succeeded," he said.
An AP Member Exchange shared by Kenosha News.