Last Thursday, Dr. Kathleen Burke, director of Substance Use Initiatives in the Office of Will County Executive Larry Walsh, met with officers from the Grundy County Sheriff’s Department and several other local municipalities in Grundy County to provide an overview of the Will County Safe Passage Network. The Grundy County Sheriff’s office is the latest agency to offer this to help meet the growing need for treatment for opioid use.
Will County created a Safe Passage Network in 2017 at the request of the police chiefs from three departments – Lockport, Mokena and Lemont. The initial pilot revealed challenges that were addressed before expanding the program to other law enforcement agencies in Will County. The network has grown to include Braidwood, Romeoville, New Lenox, Shorewood and the Sheriff’s department.
Grundy County Sheriff Ken Briley reached out to Dr. Burke because of Will County’s expertise. Grundy County officials reported a jump in overdose deaths from three in 2017 to 17 in 2018. This dramatic increase prompted Briley to take action.
“This was an important priority for me when I was elected Sheriff of Grundy County,” said Briley, who was elected in November 2018. “As a police officer in Minooka, I saw firsthand the impact of heroin and fentanyl abuse. I knew we had to find a way to help people struggling with addiction, not just arrest them. I asked one of my deputies Vic Elias to find out more about Will County’s program.”
The Will County Safe Passage Network is working with Family Guidance Centers, Inc. to provide a critical link to treatment available to the police departments 24 hours a day. This partnership allows a licensed counselor to determine the appropriate treatment needed and connect the participant with the proper care.
According to Burke, this solution resolved Will County’s biggest challenge – accessing care for individuals with no insurance or Medicaid.
“When I explained this to Grundy County they were relieved because this was a barrier they were anticipating,” Burke said.
“We used Will County’s Program Development Policy Guide Toolkit to quickly develop our Safe Passage program,” Briley said. “I am very thankful to Dr. Burke and Family Guidance Center for helping us to offer this service to our residents. In the end, it is about saving lives and getting people into treatment.”
“It takes everyone working together to reduce the number of overdose deaths,” Burke said. “We are anxious to replicate this program in police departments all over Will County. This model is not a burden on police resources”.
The Will County Safe Passage Network is a citizen self-referral system. Drug-involved individuals are encouraged to initiate contact with law enforcement without fear of prosecution, and an immediate treatment referral is made with the assistance of behavioral health experts and trained officers. Individuals who have no health insurance may be provided financial assistance for treatment or other services when available.
For information about the Grundy County Safe Passage program, contact Vic Elias in the Sheriff’s department at (815) 942-6645 or (815) 942-0336. Information about the Will County Safe Passage Network can be obtained by contacting Dr. Kathleen Burke at (815) 774-7486.