SALT LAKE CITY — Adam Schultz seemed to be recovering from heroin addiction five years ago. At 22, he had paid off his debt and got jobs at UPS and a collection agency.
But he wrecked his car and got dumped, his mom Darlene Schultz said.
"It was just too much and he went back to using. It was just the one time," she said, but he overdosed in his bed. Schultz and her husband, Mike, found their son and tried CPR but it was too late, she said Tuesday.
The parents were among more than 300 addiction recovery advocates and others who gathered at the Utah Capitol Tuesday evening for a lively rally urging solidarity and encouragement for those fighting substance abuse and mental health issues, as well as for their families.
The Schultz's carried a poster-size photo of their son smiling with brown eyes and a gap tooth. They said they came to show their support for families with loved ones fighting addiction and better funding for treatment programs to prevent more deaths like their son's.
"People can and do get better," Darlene Schultz said.
Substance abuse and mental illness "can lead people to have lives where they have no hope," but there is a future for them, said Mary Jo McMillen, executive director of the Utah Support Advocates for Recovery, to applause in the Capitol rotunda.
McMillen said heroin and painkiller addiction are on Utah's radar, along with suicides, excessive jail sentences and homelessness.
Lawmakers seeking to expand treatment services in the Beehive State and reduce the cost praised those in recovery for their bravery, saying they were proud of their efforts.
Those fighting alcohol, drug addiction and mental illness shared their own stories, urging support.
Julie Hardle, who said she tried to kill herself after she was sexually abused as a child and later endured other trauma, urged anyone contemplating suicide that "we need you ... it's recovery that enables us to start a new life."
House Speaker Greg Hughes said state and local leaders were working together with recovery agencies as part of an effort to curb crime and homelessness in Salt Lake City's Rio Grande neighborhood.
"I'm not saying 'mission accomplished,'" Hughes said. "There's more work to do, but we're doing it together."
And Democrats called for the state to expand Medicaid, the federal health-insurance program for low-income people.
Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, urged a Medicaid ballot initiative if his bill proposing full expansion fails this year.
"Let's get full Medicaid expansion into the state of Utah," Davis said, calling those in recovery "heroes."
Other recovery-related legislation is also pending.
Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, said he is bringing a measure to bolster mental health crisis hotline staffing and standards this legislative session, plus another bill to provide health coverage within a day for primary-care doctors consulting with mental health specialists. A third proposal from Eliason would cover substance abuse and mental health care for those enrolled in Utah's Primary Care Network, the health-coverage program for low-income adults.
Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski said her mother was mentally ill, and even though her family had a good support system, it was difficult for her dad and other family members to care for her mother.
"The stigma around mental illness and drug addiction must end," Biskupski said.
She and Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams said they are making treatment a priority for the homeless.
The county and state Legislature are pouring $100 million more into treatment programs this year, he said to applause.2 comments on this story
Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, said he is sponsoring a legislative measure to make 100 more treatment beds available in Utah jails. He noted that his father was an alcoholic who stopped drinking after his family confronted him. Noel said he could have gone a different way in life, which is why he supports treatment programming in Utah jails.
Before the gathering, several marched around the Capitol in a show of support, with signs saying "Addiction is not a crime" and "Recovery is possible."
Suicide prevention help is available from the national crisis hotline at 800-784-2433, and from the Utah Department of Health: utahsuicideprevention.org/suicide-prevention-basic.