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Local Column

Heimerman: Opioid diversion groups must work together

DeKalb County State's Attorney Rick Amato addresses attendees with drug concerns during a panel discussion on the opioid epidemic Dec. 5, 2017, at Fatty's Pub & Grille in DeKalb.
DeKalb County State's Attorney Rick Amato addresses attendees with drug concerns during a panel discussion on the opioid epidemic Dec. 5, 2017, at Fatty's Pub & Grille in DeKalb.

Training someone can be very revealing. In training our new reporter, Kelsey Rettke, this past week, I’ve been reminded many times just how interconnected people, agencies and initiatives are throughout DeKalb County.

Many people wear many hats, and there’s a big, crucial one – think 10-gallon – and I’m wondering exactly how it’s going to fit.

About a year ago, I learned DeKalb County State’s Attorney Rick Amato was working with law enforcement to bring a program called Heroin and Opioid Prevention and Education to the county. It mirrors a program called Safe Passage – not that Safe Passage – in Lee County, which places addicts into treatment rather than jail. The gist is pretty simple: An addict can hand over their drugs, turn themselves in consequence-free and go into treatment. No arrest, no charges. Nada. My former colleagues at Sauk Valley Media tell me the Lee County program has seen about 300 participants earn a new lease on life (although some were repeats), a testament to the relentless grip of opioids.

DeKalb’s version of the program has been slow in developing, and it’s been kept relatively under wraps. Amato told me about five people have been admitted into HOPE, which is being administered by the DeKalb Police Department – at the moment.

Why the uncertainty? Well, the department doesn’t have the staff to house a program with such demand. Treatment centers are quite a drive away; Bloomington is among the nearest locations. Oh, and you might have heard the police department is one of many in the city’s crosshairs as officials consider cuts to fill a projected $1.2 million budget shortfall next year.

Although HOPE is a fledgling project, the DeKalb County Opioid Prevention Program has landed a $900,000 federal grant over three years to add a diversion program of its own. DOPP already distributes the anti-opioid antidote naloxone to nonmedical personnel, in addition to increasing access to treatment.

With the grant, it could take on the role HOPE promises to fill, if it only had the staff.

Are you scratching your head, too? Why don’t the programs merge? They’re fighting the same fight, working toward the same desired endgame. Well, Cindy Graves, the county health department’s director of community health and prevention, as well as health education and emergency preparedness, recently told me that’s quite possible, that Amato and his office will fill one of the seats at the table as administrators of the opioid prevention program determines exactly how its diversion program will work. Graves readily admitted that the two intervention programs are redundant.

Then I spoke with folks from the county’s Court Services, and they weren’t as eager to talk merger, citing the fact that so many things need to be ironed out. Timing of the intervention is at issue, with HOPE geared to keep addicts from being arrested, let alone charged, while Court Services’ work occurs once an addict is, well, in the court system.

I get that it’s early in the process, but here’s hoping that all parties involved can pull on the rope in the same direction, whether that means merging or pooling resources.

First and foremost, I hope that’s the case so as many people as possible who are dealing with the demon of heroin and other opioid addictions can get help.

In a distant second, there’s the watchdog part of me that doesn’t want to see funds spent on duplicate services. That’s so government, isn’t it?

• Christopher Heimerman is the editor at the Daily Chronicle. He can be reached at cheimerman@shawmedia.com.

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