DIXON – The drug addict’s road to recovery can be rough. Sometimes, tragically, it spirals off into a dead end. But sometimes, people are lucky enough to find a safe passage, like the one in Lee County.
Safe though that passage has been, it hasn’t always been smooth, and its end wasn’t always clear – but it was a new course, and one that’s still being mapped.
In Dixon on Wednesday, the people who’ve been a part of that journey celebrated a symbolic mile marker: The 1-year anniversary of the Safe Passage Initiative, a program that aims to save the lives of heroin and opioid addicts by getting them into treatment instead of jail. Users can come to the police, surrender their drugs and paraphernalia, face no criminal charges, and be accepted into drug rehab, no matter their ability to pay.
A year later, many people have come a long way, but the road ahead is long, and some days it seems like there’s no end in sight, but that doesn’t deter the people who are helping addicts on their journey.
“One life we save each day is better than what we were doing a year ago,” Lee County Sheriff John Simonton said Wednesday during the 1-year celebration of the Safe Passage Initiative.
The initiative was the second such program formed in the nation and the first in Illinois. It has grown to encompass 130 communities in 25 states, Dixon Police Chief and program founder Danny Langloss said.
In February 2015, three Dixon residents died of heroin overdoses in a span of 11 days. What was viewed as a national epidemic became hit home – and hard. A new approach was needed to combat the problem.
The answer formed by the DPD, Sheriff’s Office and a slew of local leaders and organizations was Safe Passage.
Alyssa Irvin is one of the people – along with 106 others – who’s making the journey to recovery. There have been months of uneasy travel, but she’s committed to staying the course. She was at Wednesday’s celebration to thank the people who helped her.
“Without the help of my mother, the Safe Passage program and the Dixon Police Department, this would not be possible; I’d probably be dead or back on drugs,” she said. “You guys are needed, appreciated, loved and life-changers.”
Langloss said heroin addiction is a disease where those plagued by it are often turned away from receiving help and are sent home “to play Russian Roulette.”
“Drug overdose is the No. 1 cause of accidental death in the United States,” Langloss said. “It has well surpassed vehicle accidents, well surpassed any accidents in industry at work, and it is most definitely preventable, and more has to be done.”
The nation’s successful recovery rate is 10 percent, and Safe Passage’s recovery rate surpasses 65 percent, KSB Hospital President and CEO Dave Schreiner said.
The main goals of the program were to place addicts directly into treatment – within an hour or so of walking in the door – to change law enforcement’s view to see the addiction as a disease that can’t be cured with punishment, and to make sure the recovering participants have a timely transition to outpatient and outreach support.
Langloss and Simonton are working with 40 police departments in Illinois and Iowa to institute similar programs.
“It truly takes a community to combat and fight this problem,” Langloss said.
More than 2 dozen individuals and organizations were honored during the celebration including Lee County Health Department Administrator Cathy Ferguson, Simonton, Langloss, Safe Harbor, Linda Wagner, Tim Ryan, Banyan Treatment Center, Chestnut Health Center, Gateway Treatment Center, Robert Young Center, Whiteside County Community Health Department, Rosecrance Health Network, Sinnissippi Centers, SHARE Program, State Rep. Tom Demmer, Whiteside County Health Department Administrator Beth Fiorini, Rock Falls Police Chief Tammy Nelson, Lee County State’s Attorney Anna Sacco Miller, Lee County Jail Superintendent Jack Skrogstad, KSB Hospital, the Rev. Michael Cole, WIXN Radio and Sauk Valley Media among several others.
WHERE TO GET HELP
• Under the Lee County Safe Passage Initiative, addicts can seek help by contacting Dixon Police Chief Danny Langloss at email@example.com or 815-288-4411, Lee County Sheriff John Simonton at 815-284-6631, or any Lee or Whiteside County police agency.
• PRISM of Lee County is a nonprofit organization concerned with all types of drug abuse, as well as mental heath issues. Among other things, tax-deductible donations and funds from court fines and drug asset forfeitures help pay transportation and other costs associated with the Safe Passage initiative. Donations can be sent to the Lee County Health Department, 309 S. Galena Ave. Suite 100, Dixon, IL 61021, attention PRISM of Lee County. Find it on Facebook or call 815-284-3371 for more information.
• Safe Passage Support of Sauk Valley is an information-sharing Facebook site "created to support public health and policing initiatives for a more compassionate community response to substance use disorders and issues." Go there for news releases about the local Safe Passage program, and postings of news, features, benefits and other items related to addiction and recovery.
• In an attempt to reduce the risk of overdose and infections, the Lee County Health Department, 309 S. Galena Ave., provides the opioid overdose antidote naloxone, and training in how to use it, free of charge to anyone who asks for it. It also has a free and legal syringe exchange program, free cookers, alcohol pads and cotton, free hepatitis C and HIV testing, and help with health care and treatment referrals. More information on its Protecting Our Community program is available at firstname.lastname@example.org or 815-284-3371.
• Safe Harbor holds a community recovery group at 6:30 p.m. every Wednesday at the Annex building, 101 W. Second St., Dixon. Anyone battling addiction or alcohol issues are welcome, as are any family members, loved ones or friends impacted by abuse. Call Stacey at 815-973-3516 or Greg at 908-361-7924 for more information.
• Sinnissippi Centers, a behavioral health center with offices in Dixon, Sterling, Oregon, Mount Carroll and Rochelle, offers a variety of mental health counseling services, addiction programs and treatment options, and also can provide information on various support groups available at Sinnissippi and around the area. It takes private insurance and Medicaid, and payments are based on income. It also has a 24-hour crisis line: 800-242-7642.
• The Lee County We Care Substance Abuse Hotline is available 24/7 at 866-494-4431. Users struggling with addiction, or family members of addicts, can speak to someone in recovery, and also get information on area treatment centers and group meetings.
• The Community Recovery Group, a Safe Harbor program for addicts, alcoholics, their family and friends, meets at 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays at Town Square Centre, 101 W. Second St. in Dixon. Call Alison at 815-994-1953 or Greg at 908-361-7924, email email@example.com or find Safe Harbor on Facebook for more information.
• In addition, through the Good Samaritan Law, if people are using drugs together and someone overdoses, they can call 911 and seek emergency assistance without the fear of arrest or prosecution for possession of personal-use drugs and drug equipment. The law defines personal use as less than 3 grams of heroin.
If you have talents or skills to offer, would like to assist financially, or would like additional information, you also can contact Langloss, Simonton, or Lee County Health Department Administrator Cathy Ferguson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 815-284-3371.