The war on opioid addiction continues nationwide, and unfortunately, there is no end in sight to the epidemic.
The Sauk Valley has been blazing a trail in waging the war. In 2015, the Safe Passage Initiative launched in Dixon and Lee County – the first in the state and second in the nation to set up the program. The impetus was a surge in heroin addiction and heroin-related deaths in the area, including three in one week.
Safe Passage has grown in the last 4 years, now including Sterling, Rock Falls and the rest of Whiteside County. More than 300 people have participated in the program, which allows addicts to hand over their drugs to law enforcement and enter treatment without being arrested.
As proactive as the area has been, battling the opioid epidemic is a multipronged process and there are still gaps in services.
One of those gaps was filled this week when Alison White started as the Safe Passage program’s full-time coordinator and recovery coach. Her duties will include coordinating placement and transportation to treatment centers and case management for Lee and Whiteside counties.
White will also do work in plugging gaps that exist in helping recovering addicts transition from treatment to sober living. Providing transitional housing locally, a huge challenge for rural areas, has been the next logical step in the process. White will find housing options and work with businesses to provide job opportunities to smooth out the transition and lower the chance of relapse.
Sinnissippi Centers opened the area’s first recovery home last year. It has space for 10 men, but more transitional services are needed for men and women.
Awareness and prevention are a big part of the solution. The Whiteside County Healthier Communities Partnership created an Opioid Task Force to educate the area, particularly youth. Sinnissippi’s new “Be a Hero; Save a Life” billboard campaign spreads awareness of Narcan, a drug that can save the lives of those who have overdosed on opioids.
Three years ago, the Whiteside County Health Department brought more options to the table by starting programs that combine behavioral therapy and new medications to battle opioid addiction.
The hospitals have also taken the lead in fighting the opioid epidemic. KSB Hospital in Dixon received a $200,000 grant last year to launch Project Open, a prevention-focused program in Lee and Ogle counties.
There are two keys to winning the war against opioid addiction – money and partnerships. Last year, the federal government allocated $6 billion in new funding to be used to fight opioid abuse over a 2-year period. The Trump administration has awarded $1.5 billion in State Opioid Response grants. The Department of Justice has provided an additional $400 million in support of treatment, prevention and law enforcement efforts.
Law enforcement, local government, health officials and community leaders must continue to work together effectively to continue to plug the gaps in services. With adequate funding, collaboration and compassion, the Sauk Valley will continue to make its mark on the front lines in this war.