The turnout for last Thursday night's community forum on the heroin crisis in Hudson caught even the organizers by surprise.
Fifteen minutes before the program was set to begin, the parking lot of First Presbyterian Church was filled and cars lined the nearby residential streets.
An estimated 460 people attended the standing-room-only event, titled "Heroin in Hudson: A Community in Crisis." The audience filled the church sanctuary, narthex and two overflow rooms. It spilled into the dining room, where people listened to the speakers through an audio hook-up.
They heard sobering personal stories from two young men caught in addiction and now recovering from it. The father of one of the young men, and the mother of the other, talked about the havoc that heroin wreaked on their families.
Another mother told of the pain of losing her daughter to a heroin overdose.
Treatment specialists shed light on the extent of the problem and the physical and psychological effects of heroin addiction. Law enforcement officers told of their efforts to contain the problem.
Finally, Sara Sedahl, who heads up the St. Croix County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition, encouraged people to continue the fight against heroin addiction in the community and explained how they could become involved.
The forum sponsored by the Hudson Community Foundation was an outgrowth of a series of articles in the Hudson Star-Observer in which recovering addicts, their parents and the parents of young people who died of overdoses told their stories.
Reporter Meg Heaton told the audience that in her 23 years with the Star-Observer she has written many difficult and tragic stories.
"But among the most alarming to me has been the impact of heroin on too many of our friends and neighbors, on young people who played soccer and hockey and baseball with our children, and parents we know from church, parent groups and as co-workers," Heaton said.
Phil Drewiske, a 2009 graduate of Hudson High School, related how he ended up in a 4- by 8-foot prison cell after getting hooked on painkillers when he was still in middle school.
He was in prison when the news came to him of friends from Hudson dying of heroin overdoses.
"And to be honest with you, I'm sick of death. I really am," Drewiske said. "I've experienced it too many times, and it's bullshit."
Hudson used to be known as a place where drugs are readily available, he said.
"Now, it's just a nightmare epidemic."
He said heroin turned him into a monster.
"I'm not going to be the guy up here that tries to justify why I used -- like something traumatic happened to me," Drewiske said. "I just loved being high. I loved it. And I chose that over absolutely everything in my life -- my son, family, friends, my own life."
He's now in recovery and working to rebuild his life at 23 years old. His birthday is this week. He said he's be glad to talk to anyone interested in kicking their drug habit.
Drewiske's father, Roger, spoke about the effect his son's addiction had on the family.
Steven Skoog, another Hudson High School graduate, also told his story of addiction and recovery. His mother, Jodi, related what the battle was like for the family.
The most sorrowful message came from Karen Hale, the mother of Alysa Ivy, who died of a heroin overdose in a Hudson hotel room on May 18 at the age of 21.
"My daughter wasn't a bad person," Hale said. "When she started with drugs her whole demeanor changed."
"I lost her in the spring. I'm still waiting for her to come home," she said. "I feel like she's on vacation, but she's not."
The St. Croix County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition will hold an information meeting on Sept. 10 at 6 p.m. at the New Richmond Community Commons, 421 Green St. The meeting is an opportunity to learn more about what the coalition can do for communities addressing their drug problems and how to get involved. For more information phone Sara Sedahl, St. Croix County Substance Abuse counselor at (715) 246-8207.
The forum is also being rebroadcast on the River Channel community access television. Find the schedule at www.riverchannel.org or by phoning (715) 386-0115.