DIXON – There’s an onslaught of legislation and programs aimed at combating the opioid crisis, and Sauk Valley leaders can be found on the front lines.
Take Senate Bill 3023, for example.
With state Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon, as a chief co-sponsor, the bill proposes to establish the Community-Law Enforcement Partnership for Deflection and Substance Use Disorder Treatment Act – basically, it creates a road map for instituting Safe Passage initiatives throughout the state.
The Dixon Police Department and the Lee County Sheriff’s Department partnered 3 years ago to start the Safe Passage Initiative, the second of its kind in the country, allowing addicts to approach police, turn in their drugs and paraphernalia, and go directly into treatment without fear of arrest.
The alternative program is rooted in law enforcement treating addiction as a disease instead of a crime and seeking treatment over punishment for the offenders.
Safe Passage has expanded throughout the region with 267 participants, and it’s growing to other areas of the state, and to hundreds more police departments across the nation.
City Manager Danny Langloss, Police Chief Steve Howell and Detective Jeff Ragan went to Springfield last month advocating for the legislation, and it passed the Senate unanimously last week.
The bill also opens doors to funding and creates a data collection system through the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority to measure the programs.
“It creates a positive framework, opportunities for funding and allows it to be studied,” Langloss said.
It arrived in the Illinois House on April 25 and was referred to the Rules Committee.
Get them while they’re young
Another initiative – Fight Crime Invest in Kids – looks to curb the opioid crisis by addressing the problem at home and keeping children from becoming future addicts.
Lee County Sheriff John Simonton, who’s on the organization’s executive board, also was in Springfield last month, meeting with legislators to push for funding for the project, which includes support for addicted parents and other programs to reduce adverse childhood experiences like child abuse, neglect, and witnessing parental drug use.
“The parental-coaching help offered by these voluntary home visiting programs has been shown to help curb child abuse and neglect, as well as aid parents in dealing with their own drug addiction problems and finding sobriety,” Simonton said.
“These are invaluable additions to our fight against the debilitating opioid crisis, yet these programs are too often overlooked and underappreciated.”
Every 25 minutes, a baby is born in the U.S. suffering from opioid withdrawal, or Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. The number of babies with NAS increased 42 percent in Illinois from 2011 to 2015, according to a recent opioid report released by FCIK.
Home visiting programs target at-risk parents with children 5 or younger and provide them with coaching as well as opportunities to go into treatment, like Safe Passage.
“Our local Safe Passage Initiative – reflecting four main goals of prevention, education, enforcement, and treatment – is doing a great job in the fight against this crisis,” Simonton said. “Boosting early childhood services would add to these efforts and help us make use of one more vital avenue for dealing with these challenges.”
The cost estimate for the annual impact opioid addiction has on the U.S., ranging from health and criminal justice costs to an overburdened foster care system with the children of addicts, is $504 billion, according to the report.
More treatment access to rural communities
On the federal level, several bills have been introduced targeting the opioid crisis, including legislation brought in by U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline.
Bustos is one of the main sponsors for House Resolution 5483, the Special Registration for Telemedicine Clarification Act, that allows qualifying patients in rural communities easier access to medication-assisted treatment through telemedicine.
Medication-assisted treatment combines behavioral therapy with medications to treat substance abuse like suboxone and vvitrol, and the Whiteside County Health Department started its own program in 2016.
The bill creates a special registration process for clinics and substance abuse treatment providers more flexibility with prescribing medications without needing to meet in-person.
“The opioid epidemic has claimed too many lives across our nation, and I am told time and time again that access to treatment remains one of the largest barriers to recovery in small towns and rural communities across America,” Bustos said.
“Saving our sons and daughters from the opioid epidemic is a bipartisan priority, and we’re all committed to addressing this crisis as quickly and effectively as possible.”
HOW TO GET HELP, OR HELP TO PROVIDE HELP
To become a Safe Passage guide, or to learn more about the program, contact the Dixon Police Department at 815-288-4411 or the Lee County Sheriff's Department at 815-284-6631 for help or more information.
Heroin users or other opiate drug users looking for treatment can call the Whiteside County Sheriff's Department at 815-772-4044, Rock Falls Police Department at 815-622-1140, Sterling Police Department at 815-632-6640, or any county police agency.
To learn more about the MAT program or other services offered by the Whiteside County Health Clinic's Behavioral Health Department, call 815-626-2230, ext. 1291.
Fees are based on a sliding scale, and no one is ever turned away because of an inability to pay.