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A Mom Uses Her Late Son’s Art to Help Stop Heroin Use


A Mom Uses Her Late Son’s Art to Help Stop Heroin Use

West Dundee isn’t the first place you’d equate with heroin. Heck, it’s probably not even the thousand and first. But that doesn’t mean the drug can’t affect its residents. Or its families.

Take Mathew LeBlanc. A talented young artist with the whole wild world on front of him, LeBlanc left West Dundee for North Carolina’s Appalachian State. And it was there he found heroin. Matt kept finding it too. Unfortunately, when he found it in Minneapolis, after going there to get sober, it would be for the very last time.

Now Nicole Caceres wants to help put a stop to stories like Matt’s. A hard stop. And she’s using LeBlanc’s art to do it too. Via a vividly wearable project called Love LeB.

Why? Because Nicole is Matt’s Mom.

That’s right, his Mom. And tapping into her late son’s art so others don’t follow in his footsteps is a terrific way to bring attention to her cause. It also happens to be a great way to both reveal her son’s talent to the world and to keep him ever close to her heart.

In more proverbial words, Caceres is doing what she’s doing so that Matt’s untimely death won’t end up completely being in vain.

Heroin Ain’t Just a Chicago Thing Anymore

Gone are the days when heroin was simply a Chicago problem. Long gone. In fact, the overdose rate among the Windy City’s suburban community is set to match — if not exceed — its urban core. And while the problem seems especially acute in the bedroom communities to Chicago’s West and Southwest, it can still affect the ‘burbs to the North and Northwest. That includes Far Northwest ‘burbs such as West Dundee.

Of course this most certainly wasn’t meant to be. If anything, West Dundee would seem to be quite the contrary. After all, how much trouble can a village of 8000 or so get into? In fact, the last time anything controversial happened in this place was when a mall replaced the century-old greenery. And that was back in 1980. Since then there’s been little else other than a concerted effort to maintain the village’s quiet yet consequential history, including the multiple buildings which served as stops on the Underground Railroad. Everything else is simply pure charm.

Yet nothing can keep heroin out of everyone’s hands. Not even folks who were raised in a safe and secure place like West Dundee. Oh, it’s not as if heroin dealers actually set up shop on the corner of West Main Street and started luring the town’s teens. But something pulls ’em astray. And whether it’s depression or peer pressure or boredom or what have you, some of the town’s kids turn to heroin the minute they move away. Then they never turn back.

No Surprise

Heroin’s preponderance doesn’t surprise those who attend to such things in neighboring Cook County. One of them even said as much. He even said as much to Chicago Sun-Times reporter Mitch Dudek.

The man doing the talking was Professor Lee Friedman. Friedman is Professor of Environmental and Health Sciences at the University of Illinois Chicago. And the PhD-wielding professor recently teamed with a few other research-driven colleagues to investigate the problem. The UIC team was joined by the Cook County Department of Health, and together they put together a 66-page report entitled Opioid Epidemic in Suburban Cook County.

Professor Friedman told Dudek the overwhelming ratio of heroin- and fentanyl-related deaths was “probably the most alarming but not necessarily the most surprising finding.”

The good professor wasn’t surprised because fentanyl-laced opioids have long been encroaching upon all of America’s suburban streets. Despite knowing of the problem however, these most recent numbers did leave him somewhat alarmed.

Then again, how could they not? Cook County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Ponni Arunkumar said this year’s confirmed opioid overdose deaths have already surpassed the preceding year. In fact, the 1,277-1,498 2019/2020 increase was record-breaking.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has overshadowed the opioid crisis this year,” said Arunkumar, “but this crisis deserves our attention. For 2,000 families across Cook County, (2020) will be remembered as the year that opioids took their son or daughter, parent, sibling and uncle or dear friend. These are losses that could and should be prevented.”

Granted those numbers are for suburban Cook County, and West Dundee lies in adjacent Kane County. But an ABC7 I-Team analysis found Kane County opioid overdose death rates to be equally troubling. Unless perhaps you’re one of no one ever who doesn’t consider a 15% increase to be troubling.

Beyond the Numbers

But numbers are numbers. No matter how surprising or alarming they are. When stats get so high and so, well, numerous, it’s often too easy to forget the people those numbers represent. Indeed each and every digit represents another life. And each and every life represents yet another family. Combine the two and the numbers are no longer alarming or surprising — they’re downright tragic. Consequently remembering is a must.

That’s what Caceres and family believes anyway. And that’s one of their main goals. That and a firm commitment to reduce those tragic numbers once and for all.

So Love LeB. A family-run project devoted as much to remembering as it is to awareness. Where each and every art-splashed t-shirt serves as a testament to both the memory of the talented Mathew LeBlanc and the utter senselessness of his death. All of the eye-popping project’s proceeds will be going to the great good folks at a great good organization called Shatterproof. The national nonprofit is run by Gary Mendell, who, like Caceres, lost a son to addiction. And, like Caceres, he created an an organization that’s devoted to awareness and remembering. In fact, Shatterproof is so intent on remembering it’s even created a National Memorial to honor lost loved ones. Yeah, that committed.

It’s not everyday the keen, cool t-shirt you’re wearing supports two incredibly worthy causes. Heck, it’s not everyday you’re even wearing such a keen, cool t-shirt. So why not make today one of those days?

Healing Properties salutes Nicole Caceres and Love LeB, as well as Gary Mendell and Shatterproof. We also wholeheartedly thank both for doing so much great good. We’d also like to remind folks that help is readily available, no matter where you are. All you’ve got to do is pick up the phone.

(Image: Artist Matthew LeBlanc at Work; Courtesy NBC Chicago. Please be sure to read/watch Regina Waldroup’s superb tribute to LeBlanc and the Love LeB Project.)

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