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Former Bear Jim McMahon talks past drug use at opening of New Lenox hospital for mental health, substance abuse treatment

The SouthtownStar - 12/14/2018

Dec. 14--As officials Thursday marked the opening of a New Lenox hospital meant to treat people with mental health disorders and substance abuse problems, former Chicago Bear Jim McMahon candidly talked about his own yearslong struggle with prescription painkillers.

The owner of two Super Bowl rings who spent 15 years in the NFL said he didn't "remember half of my career" because he "was so loaded on these pills all the time."

Speaking before a group of about 200 during a celebration of the opening of Silver Oaks Behavioral Hospital, directly west of Silver Cross Hospital, McMahon said he was diagnosed seven years ago with early onset dementia. McMahon, 59, also has suffered from depression, severe headaches and vision and speech issues.

Silver Oaks started with Silver Cross's board of directors seeking to "address the urgent mental health needs of this community," Ruth Colby, Silver Cross president and chief executive, told the crowd.

According to the 2016 Will County Community Needs assessment, mental health has been identified as the top unmet need, and 70 percent of health care providers surveyed said they refer people with mental illness to local emergency rooms because of access issues, Silver Cross said.

According to Silver Cross, the 2012 closing of the state-run Tinley Park Mental Health Center forced more than 60 percent of area residents seeking help with mental health disorders or substance abuse to go outside of the region for care, and many have gone without treatment.

The 100-bed hospital is scheduled to open early next year and is a joint venture between Silver Cross and US HealthVest, which operates psychiatric hospitals in Des Plaines and Waukegan, two in the Atlanta area and one near Seattle.

Richard Kresch, US HealthVest president and chief executive, described Silver Oaks being as "modern and up-to-date as any (psychiatric hospital) in the country."

His firm did its own assessment of mental health needs of the region and found it to be underserved.

"Our job is just beginning," Kresch said.

McMahon said his impressions of what a psychiatric hospital looked like came from the movie "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest," and that he was impressed with Silver Oaks after touring the facility Thursday.

Wearing a blazer over a checked shirt, jeans, sneakers and a pair of sunglasses, McMahon was warmly received by the crowd as he talked about the "pains and bad feelings," and how he would lay down in a dark room for weeks at a time with "no desire to do anything."

"If I had a gun (at the time) I probably wouldn't be here today," he said.

McMahon, who receives regular treatment for neck injuries suffered during his career, said that there are a "lot of my colleagues in the sports world dealing with mental health issues," but later added "we're proud athletes" and that pride can make it "tough to ask for help sometimes."

McMahon said he is a "big proponent" of medical marijuana, and that he hasn't taken a pain pill "in eight or nine years" since using marijuana and encourages others to use it to wean themselves from prescription painkillers.

"It's not a drug, it's a medicinal herb," he said. "It's God's gift to us."

Those attending the grand opening were encouraged to tour the facilities afterward, and among them was John Roberts.

Not long after his son, Billy, a high school senior, died of a drug overdose in September 2009, he and another father, Brian Kirk, who'd lost his son to an overdose, founded the Heroin Epidemic Relief Organization.

A former longtime Chicago police officer, Roberts said that funding cutbacks have made it more difficult for south and southwest suburban residents to get help for substance abuse issues or mental health disorders.

"People who desperately need treatment can't get it," which has resulted in "a drug epidemic, a suicide epidemic."

"There's not enough help for the communities, for the families," Roberts said. "We need more funding, we need more facilities like this."

According to Silver Cross, Silver Oaks will offer inpatient and outpatient programs, and provide mental health assessments 24-hours at no charge. The hospital will provide treatment for mental health disorders including anxiety and depression, as well as substance use, including alcohol, illegal drugs and improper use of prescription or over-the-counter medications.

mnolan@southtownstar.com

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(c)2018 The Daily Southtown (Tinley Park, Ill.)

Visit The Daily Southtown (Tinley Park, Ill.) at www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/daily-southtown

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