Elk Grove Village Cares: A Community-Based Strategy to Tackle Opioid Addiction, Help Those in Need and Make Our Community Stronger, Safer and Healthier
Too many families across the nation are losing their sons and daughters, their mothers and fathers, and their sisters and brothers to heroin and opioid addictions and overdoses. This disease impacts all families, whether they be rich or poor; black, brown or white; or urban, suburban or rural. Many have identified the skyrocketing rates of opioid-related deaths and addictions as our country’s top public health epidemic.
Here in Elk Grove Village, we are not immune. Our police officers, firefighters and EMTs have been on the front lines of this problem. They’ve been called to homes, motels, parks and other locations to administer aid to overdose victims. They’ve investigated the illicit sale and usage of heroin and opioids in and around our community. And, they’ve received ample training and guidance on how to best manage this problem in the name of keeping Elk Grove Village safe, healthy and strong.
But increasingly, Village officials have come to realize that a community-wide problem requires a community-based response. That’s why, over, the last 18 months, Mayor Craig Johnson has been working with Village leadership to develop a comprehensive strategy so that Elk Grove Village can respond assertively and effectively in the wake of this national epidemic.
Village officials have studied what other communities are doing to address this growing national public health crisis. They have sought funding for innovative programs that place overdose-reversing drugs in the hands of first responders. They have trained police officers on the disease of addiction to better understand how heroin and opioids affect the human brain.
During this process, one thing has become abundantly clear. This problem will not be solved by one government agency, one police department, or one treatment provider. Reducing the ravaging impacts heroin and opioid addiction have on communities, families and individuals requires a robust, comprehensive, community-wide effort.
This week, the Village launched Elk Grove Village Cares, a multi-pronged, community-based approach that is the first of its kind in the Chicago area. All of our work to build this program stems from our commitment to:
- Reduce the number of opioid related deaths and overdoses in Elk Grove Village.
- Provide more “points of entry” for people suffering from addiction and help them access the resources they need to begin the very difficult work of recovery.
- Establish and strengthen community-based resources for those in recovery and their family members.
- Educate residents about the disease of addiction, while also eliminating the stigma that individuals and families suffer.
Elk Grove Village Cares includes:
- A major shift from treating the opioid epidemic as a law enforcement problem to one that demands a community-based response.
- A new Elk Grove Village Police Department policy that prioritizes compassion for those seeking treatment.
- The placement of Narcan kits in public spaces so Village employees and citizens can step in to save the life of an individual who may be suffering from an overdose.
- Partnerships with treatment and recovery providers where addicts who present themselves at the Elk Grove Police Department will be placed at a detox and recovery facility.
- A program where Village social services personnel will personally follow up with individuals who seek treatment services through the Village.
- Ongoing work with Elk Grove Village-based inter-faith organizations to establish counseling programs that cater to those in recovery and their family members.
- A public education campaign—currently in the works—to remove the stigma attached to opioid abuse and addiction, and raise awareness about the disease of addiction.
A new approach by law enforcement that puts compassion first
For decades illicit drug usage, including heroin and opioid abuse, was viewed as a problem for law enforcement to solve. It has become clear that merely by arresting those who have become victims is not an effective approach to reducing the impact heroin and opioid abuse has on families and communities. Today, opioid addiction is rightfully viewed as a public health crisis that requires not just a police response, but a community-wide response.
As such, the Elk Grove Police Department, like many other law enforcement agencies across the county, is adopting a new approach whose focus is not on arresting the addicted, but on serving as the point of entry for those who want help.
As part of Elk Grove Village Cares, individuals who are willing to take that first step on the road to recovery can walk in to the Elk Grove Village Police Department and ask for help. On their behalf, an officer will contact our program partners who provide a full range of addiction and recovery services. The officer will also provide safe transportation to a treatment facility for that individual. Every officer has been trained on this new procedure and no one seeking help will be turned away. The goal is to help individuals access the treatment they need.
This policy shift is made possible because the Elk Grove Village Police Department has entered into agreements with three top substance abuse and addiction counseling institutions, AMITA, The Gateway Foundation and the SHARE Program. As part of these agreements, these providers will do everything they can to ensure that an individual seeking help can access it.
But our commitment doesn’t stop there. After an individual is admitted to treatment, Elk Grove Village social services personnel will conduct frequent follow up with individuals and family members. If the hard road to recovery takes months or even years, our social services personnel will be there for any individual that enters treatment via Elk Grove Village Cares. We will support individuals and family members by helping them access community-based support services, providing assistance with insurance challenges including Medicaid application assistance, and making sure that they have our full support during their very difficult journey to recovery.
While this major shift in how to approach this problem is not the first thing the Elk Grove Police Department has done to address the opioid crisis, it is a significant step forward in our efforts to tackle this problem compassionately and with the safety of our community in mind. Every officer on the force has received training on how to best handle an individual suffering from addiction. Local addiction counselors and physicians have spoken to our officers about the disease of addiction. Additionally, our police officers, firefighters, and paramedics carry Narcan, a drug that can save the lives of overdose victims by immediately reversing the effects of heroin and other opioids.
To be clear, the Elk Grove Village Police Department will continue to be tough on drug-related crime. We will continue to work every day to hold drug offenders—those who place our
families, our children and our community in harm’s way—accountable. Over the last five years, our officers have made more than 600 drug-related arrests. However, we also know that the best way to help an individual who is suffering from the disease of addiction isn’t by arresting him or her. The best way is to help them access the care and guidance they need so they can recover.
Empowering the community to save lives
In addition to helping those addicted get on the road to recovery, Elk Grove Village Cares is also about saving lives. According to the Illinois Department of Human Services, nearly 2,000 people in Illinois died of drug overdoses in 2016. Fully 80 percent of those fatalities were opioid related. Opioid-related overdoses are up 70 percent compared to 2013 statistics.
Narcan, the brand name for a drug called naloxone, is a drug that can rapidly reduce the effects that opioids can have on the human body. It has proven effective in rescuing individuals who are suffering from emergency overdoses. Increasingly, police officers and EMTs have saved lives by deployed Narcan. Since 2013, Elk Grove Village Police Officers have saved 16 lives by administering Narcan to overdose victims. In 2018 alone, members of the Elk Grove Village Fire Department have saved five lives by administering Narcan to overdose victims.
Beginning in July, the Elk Grove Village Cares program will begin placing easy-to-use Narcan kits in nearly 20 public spaces so that life-saving treatment is easily accessible. Initially, kits will be placed at public facilities such as Village Hall, and the library, for example. The Village expects to expand the program to potentially include places of business and other locations.
The kits contain two Narcan doses that are administered via a nasal spray. Administering the drug requires no special training or expertise, only the willingness to by any good Samaritans willing to step in to help another in need.
Elk Grove Village is only the third community nationwide (Albuquerque, New Mexico and Gloucester, Massachusetts are the others) to launch a program where Narcan kits are so easily accessed in public. More information about Narcan can be found on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website.
Building a network of support in Elk Grove Village
On average, an individual recovering from the disease of heroin or opioid addiction will relapse seven to ten times. This speaks to both the difficulty of staying clean and also to the need for communities to have ample support mechanisms in place for those in recovery. Further, family members of the addicted often require peer support and programs to help them help their loved one.
Currently, there is a dearth of aftercare support services available in Elk Grove Village for individuals and families struggling with heroin and opioid addiction. In order for Elk Grove
Village Cares to be effective, that needs to change. We all play a role in making sure that those who want to stay on the road to recovery can access the support they need. The Village has reached out to numerous inter-faith organizations and has received a commitment from them to explore establishing support groups similar to Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous. The Village has made the commitment to provide some financial assistance to help get these programs up and running.
Removing the stigma of opioid addiction through education
The prevailing wisdom among those who study and treat substance abuse victims is that addiction is a disease, not a lifestyle choice. Many of us have experienced addiction firsthand in our families or social circles be it alcohol, cigarettes or drugs. We know that the hurdles to recovery are very high for those who suffer from substance addiction.
But we also know that there is a stigma attached to heroin and opioid addiction. Many of us just don’t know what to say to an addict or a family member who has a child, sibling or a parent who is in the throes of addiction. We don’t know how to talk about it. Too many of us think those afflicted with the disease of addiction chose their path. We now know that not to be true due to advances in medical and scientific research.
There was a time, believe it or not, that we didn’t talk publicly about diseases like breast cancer or AIDS. But we now know that once we removed the stigma that was attached to those illnesses and once we began an honest conversation about how those illnesses affect communities and families, that the public was better informed and, most importantly, treatment improved and lives were saved.
So, as part of Elk Grove Village Cares, we will be making a greater effort to educate residents about the problem and how it affects Elk Grove Village families. We will be issuing a special edition newsletter next month and intend to develop educational videos, make information available on our website and tap local experts to speak at Village events and to community groups.
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As with any new program, we know that Elk Grove Village Cares will not be a perfect from day one. We know there may be setbacks and unforeseen challenges. But our commitment to make this effort deliver on our commitment to save lives and help those in need is unwavering.
We expect that many Elk Grove residents will learn about this program and ask, “What can I do to help?” Stepping in when fellow residents need help and support is, after all, the spirit of what makes our community great.
If you have ideas, constructive criticism or suggestions on how we can make Elk Grove Village Cares realize its full potential to help others, we want to hear your feedback. Feel free to contact us or email us at ElkGroveVillageCares@elkgrove.org.Elk Grove Village Cares would not be possible without the support of the Elk Grove Village Board, which approved funding as part of the FY2019 budget as seed money to help get this program off the ground. The funds will be used to purchase the Narcan kits, provide assistance to individuals seeking recovery services, to establish locally-based peer support groups and to educate Elk Grove Village residents about the disease of addiction and the stigma that is attached to addiction.