Substance use disorder at heart of convention at Sauk

TED Talk’s Johann Hari is a featured speaker

DIXON – The treatment and recovery from substance abuse is the aim of the Northern Illinois Recover-Con, which will be held Friday and Saturday at Sauk Valley Community College.

Aaqil Khan of KSB Hospital’s Project Open is one of the organizers. Gerald Lott, executive director of Sauk Valley Voices of Recovery, is another.

A $1 million, three-year federal grant has helped Project Open take the lead in this work. The project is a collaborative effort by three dozen civic groups and service agencies in Lee, Ogle and Whiteside counties.

“What we want to do is show that the Sauk Valley is recovery-friendly,” Khan said, adding that the region’s employers see themselves as partners in the effort. “When you promote recovery, it lessens the stigma.”

Khan said recent data shows about 70% of people with a substance abuse disorder are actively employed.

Being open about the prevalence of substance use disorder is just one aspect of the conference, which will bring together leading voices on the subject.

One of the featured speakers is Johann Hari, author and TED Talk presenter, who will address why addiction is on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic. His address will be done virtually.

Other speakers at the convention will be Douglas Marlowe of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, Glorious Recovery founder Aleksa Bembnista, Samantha Lewandowski of New Hampshire’s recovery-friendly workplace initiative, and recovery comedians Jay Armstrong and Kurtis Matthews.

The My Lived Experience seminars will feature testimonies from individuals on their own encounters with addiction. Luke Tomsha of the Perfectly Flawed Foundation and Carly Rice of Miss Carly’s of Rockford are arranging those discussions.

For medical professionals, Rush University Medical Center is presenting seminars that count as continuing education requirements.

Some of the presenters have local ties:

Steven Howell, chief of the Dixon Police Department, will discuss the Safe Passage Program.

Danny Langloss, city manager for Dixon, will look at a community-based approach to addiction and mental illness.

Dr. Pratip Nag, chief medical officer at KSB, will join Kahn in a presentation on Project Open.

Stephanie I. of Prophetstown will discuss the role of a Recovery-Oriented Systems of Care Council in relation to Recovery Community organizations.

State Rep. Maurice West of Rockford’s 67th District, will moderate a legislative panel on the politics of treatment and recovery.

Admission to the convention is free, but attendees are asked to register at

Accessing the hybrid and remote interactions at the conference will require the Whova app. Links are provided upon registration.

Two documentaries will be screened. They are “Facing Addiction Across America” from 2016 and “Never Get Outta the Boat” from 2002. Both will include Q&A sessions.

There also will be support group meetings and exhibitor booths.

Troy Taylor

Troy E. Taylor

Was named editor for and the Gazette and Telegraph in 2021. An Illinois native, he has been a reporter or editor in daily newspapers since 1989.