Robert W. Burgan of Des Plaines is 25 years old, a musician, a poet… and a young man in recovery for opioid addiction at The Way Back Inn. 

The agency’s sites, The Way Back Inn for men and Grateful House for women, have recovery programs for adults who are suffering from alcohol, drug and gambling dependence in Oak Park, Maywood, Forest Park, Melrose Park and Chicago.  

Burgan’s dependence on prescription painkillers began after he incurred a wrestling injury in high school.  “My problem with substance abuse is typically opioids, painkillers and pharmaceuticals,” said Burgan, just prior to taking the stage at an open mic organized by the local social service consortium, A.R.T. (Addiction Recovery Team) during National Recovery Month in September.  “It really got out of control when I started doing an opiate called Kratom.”

“Every morning I would wake up with a whole list of problems.  The first one was that I needed to get this substance to feel better,” said Burgan, who is also living with depression.  “Once I got the substance, I would think, OK, I solved my first problem, I will deal with the rest of them tomorrow.”

“Back then I made a pact with myself:  No matter what, you are not going to withdrawal,” he said.  “The drug turned me into a monster because I did whatever I had to do to get money to buy drugs.”

Burgan’s long relationship with drug addiction got worse when over a six month period the drugs took over and he hit rock bottom, not only losing his job, but the trust and support of his family and friends.

“I stole from people.  I lied to people.  My mind was messed up, and I needed to change,” he said.  “It was only related to the addiction.  The only reason for the thievery was the addiction.  But I was always sabotaging myself.”

After admitting himself into a hospital detox program, upon completion he was homeless…until he found The Way Back Inn to begin rebuilding his broken life in its residential recovery program.

In 2016, Anita Pindiur, executive director of The Way Back Inn, says her agency has been in the trenches of the opioid epidemic, as about 50 to 60 percent of the 100 or so people they annually serve in their residential and outpatient programming are between the ages of 18 and 25 years old.

“It’s really, really sad,” she said.  “This starts really young, and by the time we see these individuals, they have already been abusing the substance for four or five years, sometimes starting as young as 15, and in those high school years, what we are seeing in our population is that they are not dabbling in marijuana, or stealing liquor from mom and dad’s liquor cabinet.  They are moving directly into opioid and heroin addiction.”

On September 18, Burgan was 84 days clean…and counting on having a full recovery.

“Opioids do not kill pain.  They kill your personal life, and the person you are,” he said.  “Now, making music is my positive approach to healing my pain, not masking it, or self medicating it, but healing it.”

Writers note:  The Way Back Inn is looking for beta testers to try out a new iPhone Recovery App.  To help, link to

Way Back Inn

Complete address: Way Back Inn, 412 Wesley Oak Park, IL 60302 (cooperate address 104 Oak st. Maywood, IL 60153)

General office number: 708-345-8422 ext 1 for general questions

Leadership contact name & title: Anita Pindiur Executive Director  for general questions or intake Phil Schneeberger Outreach and Admissions

Statement of purpose: The mission of the Way Back Inn is to rebuild lives damaged by addiction in a personalized healing environment.

How long have you been in existence? The Oak Park location since 1958 known as the Grateful House, the Way Back Inn since 1973, the two merged in 2002

Ways volunteers can help: special events such as our picnics and annual dinners we need help in mailing invitations, getting donations, and running the events.  We need volunteers to provide special activities or skills to the clients such as interviewing skills, cooking classes, or engagement in the community.

To volunteer, call: 708-345-8422 ext 29 ask for Christine Laughlin

Useful donations other than money: Clients are always in need of shoes, work clothing, and jackets in the winter.  During our main fundraising event we have a silent auction, any times that can be auctioned off are appreciated.  

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Deb Quantock McCarey

Deb Quantock McCarey is an Illinois Press Association (IPA) award-winning freelance writer who has worked with Wednesday Journal Inc. since 1995, writing features and special sections for all its publications....