A local man will work toward decreasing opioid deaths in a role he was recently appointed to.
This week, Luke Tomsha announced his appointment to the Governor’s Opioid Overdose Prevention and Recovery Steering Committee.
Tomsha, who was a heroin user for more than 14 years, will serve on the committee as a person with lived experience.
“It’s important to have people who understand the need to lead with compassion. For decades, we’ve criminalized this human behavior, and it has made problems worse,” Tomsha said.
“Outside of adding to stigma, which prevents people from asking for help, it actually increases the risk of overdose death and has created further barriers to people getting jobs, education, housing, financial stability, etc. We need to be reducing barriers to reentry, understand the reasons people choose drugs, what’s going on and why they use them.
“Most importantly, if people are actively using, we need to make sure people are aware of the dangers and risk and know that they have caring people they can trust to support them when they’re ready for help.
“People don’t realize the impact one death can have, not just on a family, but an entire community.”
The committee guides the work of the Illinois Opioid Crisis Response Advisory Council as well as overseeing the ongoing implementation of the Statewide Opioid Action Plan.
The ultimate goal of the action plan is to reduce opioid-related deaths, which Tomsha said is a bipartisan issue that affects everyone.
“Fueled by the growing opioid epidemic, drug overdoses have now become the leading cause of death nationwide for people under the age of 50,” according to the Statewide Opioid Action Plan’s website.
“There’s so much you can learn by having people with lived experience in the conversation and help meet the needs of this population,” Tomsha said. “It’s refreshing they’ve welcomed our voice.”
He said one of the major issues he wants to tackle in his role is achieving social equity and addressing the disparities that exist when it comes to opioid deaths statewide.
Tomsha acknowledges that his personal situation isn’t universal.
“I have been very blessed with the luxuries of a supportive family, community, social support, access to education, job, health care, food, shelter, privileges and second chances that many aren’t ever allowed.
“My survival is just one example of what we can hope to see if we can achieve equality in our systems where everyone is given a fair and equal chance.”
He had served on the state’s Illinois Opioid Crisis Response Advisory Council for the past three years. In this new role, he’s representing the people of Illinois, he said, not the Perfectly Flawed Foundation, of which he is the founder and executive director.
The nonprofit organization is based in La Salle with the mission of “strengthening communities affected by addiction by investing in children, individuals and education” and has worked to provide youth enrichment, education, peer and family support, harm reduction, public health, advocacy and outreach.