By Lindsay Garric Special to Published Jul 19, 2015 at 5:09 AM

Surviving the loss of a loved one to an opiate overdose leaves an inconsolable void. This circumstance has become all too common in Wisconsin, where according to the Wisconsin Epidemiological Profile on Alcohol and other Drug Abuse Report* drug related deaths, in particular overdose deaths from opiates - are on the rise.

The report cites, "The upward trend in mentions of heroin in drug-related deaths may reflect increasing substitution of heroin for prescription drugs among opioid users due to heroin’s lower cost and increasing availability. With no standards for consistency or dosing as with prescription drugs, heroin use carries significant risk of overdose."

After losing son CJ to a heroin overdose, Charlie and Patti Lomas made it their life’s mission to fight the heroin epidemic. On March 18, 2012 they founded the CJ Lomas Recovery Foundation 501(c)(3) nonprofit in memory of their beloved son and in fervent support of those engaged in recovery.

The Foundation is active in myriad activities like speaking engagements, facilitating education and participating in awareness events like neighborhood drug summits. It also provides financial donations to treatment facilities, sober living houses, detox facilities and recovery organizations.

Through this, it effectively provides support, education and resources not only for those suffering with the disease of addiction and engaged in recovery, but also to the people who love them – their families, spouses, significant others and friends.

But, the Lomas family doesn’t just delegate these tasks. They are in the trenches. Every other Tuesday evening, the Lomas’ open their home to families dealing with opiate addiction for their "Family and Friends Support Group."

The group is a vital and unique resource that fills an essential need in the vicious cycle of addiction and in the world of recovery. The group provides a safe place for family members to access resources and through their commonality bond in an environment where the issue at hand does not have to be whispered.

This service is especially critical for those who have lost a loved one to this disease. It allows them to grieve while helping other families in an effort to avoid the same repercussions. The gathering is a confidential forum for sharing stories, shedding tears and no matter the circumstances, learning to live life by Patti’s motto, "Keep smiling."

While it will never replace the life of their son, where once there was emptiness, the Lomas’ now have a full house for every "Friends and Family Support Group" they host. The Lomas family is a pioneer in offering this specialized resource that was virtually nonexistent before they helmed it. Patti reflects, "I see the look of terror, sadness, fear and loneliness on the faces of every new parent that walks into our house on Tuesday evenings and my heart just breaks for them because I was them!! I was that terrified, scared, ashamed parent who felt like I had no one to talk to and no safe place to go."

The growth of the bi-weekly group is confirmation of how critical the Lomas’ mission is, while at the same a tragic reminder the heroin problem is not going away, nor is it getting any better.

Patti reveals, "I read an article** a while ago that said 120 people die every day of an unintentional overdose! 120 families are planning their child's funeral. Where is the outrage? CJ died 3 1/2 years ago of a heroin overdose and things have not gotten any better. They are actually worse now than they were then! This is not a NEW problem."

Patti is tragically correct; the numbers are only growing nationally. Recently, the opiate epidemic has been getting more regular news coverage, as the statistics have grown more alarming. But, regardless of news coverage, addiction and recovery still hold a societal stigma that dampens the resonance of the bigger message - that there is no shame in getting help.

This may have to do with a pervading general denial or ignorance of the connection between prescription opiates and "street" heroin use (as stated in the report mentioned at the beginning of this piece.) Until that is openly acknowledged around the dinner table and in doctor’s offices, until it is educated into parents and physicians and communicated from them to their children and to patients openly and without indignity, as Charlie says, "this catastrophic epidemic will remain the "elephant in the room."

Patti has seen a symbolic growth of the epidemic within the walls of her own home. She says, "We used to gather around our kitchen table with maybe six to eight family members. We now have had to buy two 8-foot and two 6-foot tables and 30 chairs. We remove all the furniture from our living room and set up the tables and chairs there because we can no longer fit in our kitchen. I feel blessed that we are able to provide a non-judgmental place for family members to gather, feel safe, gain some knowledge about this horrific disease and support each other, but on the other hand, I feel very sad that there are SO many families living this hell."

And yet even with the work of organizations like the CJ Lomas Recovery Foundation, addiction still tends to be an unspoken "dirty little secret" within families and communities. Charlie gives an incredible analogy, "Three to four people die at one particular intersection and the community is willing to spend millions of dollars on putting in a roundabout! But, 120 individuals with the DISEASE of addiction die EVERY DAY and there are no detox centers, no affordable treatment facilities and NO place for them or their families to turn!!!"

According to Patti, "I have spoken at dozens of heroin summits and everyone agrees that we can not arrest our way out of this problem, we can not incarcerate our way out of this problem and families can not love their way out of this problem!!! It's time to do something!!"

And "doing something" is exactly what the CJ Lomas Foundation does every July. In addition to the hefty work they do through the family support group, they have hosted The CJ Lomas Recovery Foundation Golf Outing each year since CJ’s passing to commemorate his life, to raise money for recovery organizations and to provide financial assistance for those in need to get help.

This year, the event takes place on Friday July 24, and is a fun, positive way to make a difference in the lives of those affected by addiction. The outing is the primary way the Foundation raises funds for their work. Patti says, "We have come to the painful realization that it is terribly difficult to raise money as a nonprofit organization! The golf outing provides us a venue where we can offer a GREAT day for a variety of individuals and raise the much needed funds to continue to help save lives."

The Lomas family and friends are tirelessly grass roots in the way they publicize their incredible efforts in the war on heroin and their staunch support of those in recovery. The Foundation gets the word out through social media and also through the organizations they have aligned themselves with throughout their journey. A true optimist able to turn tragedy into hope, Patti excitedly exclaims, "I think there is some "word of mouth" that is now going on as well!"

There’s still time to purchase and take part in this incredible event that includes an auction and a raffle. Last year, the outing raised a little over $15,000. The funds went to Nova Recovery Center, SALS Houses and the Pass it on Club!

The void left by CJ’s passing may never be filled, but the Lomas family lives on, propelled by their mission and fueled by their full hearts.

"We do this so no more CJ's have to die. When you help other people, you help yourself. It's impossible to not feel great when you do good for other people. We see so much suffering and want to do what we can."

Learn more about the CJ Lomas Recovery Foundation and sign up for the Golf Outing here and on Facebook.

Learn more about the Friends and Family Support Group here.

*Wisconsin Epidemiological Profile on Alcohol and other Drug Abuse Report prepared by the Division of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, the Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Office of Health Informatics, Division of Public Health

**According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 120 people die of a drug overdose every day in the U.S. – that's one every 12 minutes – and an additional 6,700 people are treated in emergency departments.

Lindsay Garric Special to

Lindsay Garric is a Milwaukee native who calls her favorite city home base for as long as her lifestyle will allow her. A hybrid of a makeup artist, esthetician, personal trainer and entrepreneur all rolled into a tattooed, dolled-up package, she has fantasies of being a big, bad rock star who lives in a house with a porch and a white picket fence, complete with small farm animals in a version of Milwaukee that has a tropical climate.

A mishmash of contradictions, colliding polar opposites and a dash of camp, her passion is for all pretty things and the products that go with it. From makeup to workouts, food to fashion, Lindsay has a polished finger on the pulse of beauty, fashion, fitness and nutrition trends and is super duper excited to share that and other randomness from her crazy, sexy, gypsy life with the readers of