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Local Column

Heimerman: County united in battle against opioids

DeKalb Police Commander Steve Lekkas talks Tuesday at the DeKalb County Courthouse, about opioid addiction and the diversion program HOPE, which stands for Heroin and Opioid Prevention and Education. The program, spearheaded by DeKalb County States Attorney Rick Amato and local law enforcement, advocates placing addicts into treatment rather than jail.
DeKalb Police Commander Steve Lekkas talks Tuesday at the DeKalb County Courthouse, about opioid addiction and the diversion program HOPE, which stands for Heroin and Opioid Prevention and Education. The program, spearheaded by DeKalb County States Attorney Rick Amato and local law enforcement, advocates placing addicts into treatment rather than jail.

It’s been a while – too long, admittedly – since we’ve gotten you an update on the Heroin and Opioid Prevention and Education program that’s helping addicts get help without criminal repercussions.

You’re about to find out a lot more over the next 10 days about the headway being made in the war against opiate addiction, a massive scourge of our society being held at bay by initiatives in DeKalb County. An update is coming to the daily newspaper, and on March 28, we’ll insert a special Shaw Media overview of the epidemic and what’s being done to combat it.

Since the idea was brought up about a year and a half ago to have a program in DeKalb County where users can turn over their drugs and paraphernalia and be admitted to a treatment facility without being charged, I’ve wondered who will be the point person, or agency for that matter.

I found out something I’m considering comforting Tuesday afternoon: This is a community effort.

In Lee County, Safe Passage was established in early 2015, and then-Police Chief Danny Langloss, now the city manager in Dixon, spearheaded bringing the program to the Sauk Valley, where I used to work.

Langloss was the guy. The point person. About 300 people have been admitted. Admirable work.

So what about here? State’s Attorney Rick Amato and DeKalb Police Cmdr. Steve Lekkas, who have done much of the heavy lifting in the program, which is still in a pilot phase, looked at each other.

We’d been talking for nearly an hour at that point, about, among other aspects, local nonprofits’ role in helping transport admitees to treatment facilities that are quite a drive, let alone a hike, away. The major struggles in making this thing work are finding, screening and transporting people to those facilities. Both Lekkas and Amato are remarkably well-versed in the logistics, the struggles and how this thing will sing, but ...

There is no point person, per se.

This is on all of us.

One of my major takeaways from our conversation Tuesday afternoon was that this has cast a wide net. Lekkas said his department has had folks reach out who are, or their loved ones are, addicted to not just opiates, but alcohol, and the whole gamut of substances.

Another takeaway: No one wants to puff their chest over the fact that seven people have been admitted into the program already, even though it’s still technically a pilot, and will remain that way until all the ducks are in a row to make it sing.

Since we moved here nearly two years ago, I’ve been overwhelmed by the number of agencies eager to speak with the Daily Chronicle about how they’re working to help their neighbors, the people who so desperately need interventions against addiction.

Narcan helps. The Hope program will only become more effective. But it’s up to you and me to see a problem, report a problem. If someone is battling, don’t let them battle alone.

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

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