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With a focus on treatment rather than jail time, Kane County officials plan to launch a pilot program later this year that provides amnesty to drug addicts and links them directly to rehabilitative programs.

The “A Way Out” program — which also runs in Lake and McHenry counties — allows anyone suffering from substance abuse to walk into the lobby of a participating police station and ask for help, Kane County Coroner Rob Russell said. They’ll be able to dispose of their unwanted drugs without receiving any possession charges.

With the program comes a need for more rehabilitative bed space, Sheriff Ron Hain said.

Hain plans to lease 18,000 square feet of space at the Kane County Sheriff’s Office in St. Charles to a rehabilitative group to run treatment for both walk-in patients and jail inmates.

“When I walked in and started digging into the layout of the facility, I realized we had this space available to us and it’s completely unused,” Hain said.

The space is connected to the jail and the first floor would be used for walk-ins and the other two floors would be for inmates, Hain said. The sheriff’s office will be asking for bids from rehabilitative groups to lease the space.

Currently, Lighthouse Recovery Inc. in St. Charles provides medically-assisted treatment for opioid withdrawals within the jail.

Russell said he began pushing to create a countywide A Way Out program after seeing the success Lake County has had.

“From 2014 to 2017, Cook County had a 213 percent increase in opioid deaths and Kane County had a 204 percent increase,” Russell said. “Lake County saw 23 percent. Why is that? Something has to be said about that.”

Officials plan to meet with Lake County authorities in January to discuss piloting what Lake County has utilized since June 2016.

So far, the Kane County Sheriff’s Office, and the Batavia, Geneva, St. Charles and Campton Hills police departments have agreed to join the program, and Russell hopes that number will grow.

Police departments will serve as a starting point to the recovery process. Anyone seeking help with addiction would be able to walk in and residents will be given amnesty if they have drugs that they’d like to turn in. Participants would then be connected with an appropriate outpatient or inpatient program, and police would provide transportation if necessary.

Delnor Hospital will be used as an initial triage center, where patients are sent before a decision is made on where to send them, Russell said. After the pilot, Russell said other hospitals would be approached about joining in.

“The big thing now is treatment,” Russell said. “During an influx in 2014, we had all these people dying, and we gave them and first responders Narcan to keep them alive. Some people thought, ‘OK we’ve handled it now,’ but that isn’t the case. That just keeps them alive, and many times you are keeping the same people alive again and again.”

Without following up with treatment, the cycle just continues, Russell said.

Russell said his office reported 67 opioid overdose deaths in 2017, compared to 27 in 2012. While the total number of deaths for 2018 is not yet available, Russell said he believes the number of opioid deaths will be higher than in 2017. So far, there are 48 confirmed and more than 20 suspected cases.

The Elgin Police Department already follows its own version of the program, Hain said.

“We’re committed to working with Chief [Ana] Lalley to roll the program out to the northern end of Kane [County] and we want to implement a substation for the sheriff’s office in the Burlington area,” Hain said.

On the southern half of Kane County, people would be able to walk into the sheriff’s office in St. Charles and a substation in the Kane County Health Department on Highland Avenue in Aurora, Hain said.

The sheriff’s office will also launch a heroin hotline, an anonymous texting application. By looking at the demographics of heroin users, Hain said users are more likely to rely on a texting-based application to ask for help or report issues.

The program requires someone to be forward enough to walk in and be able to ask for help,” Hain said.

Sheriff’s officers will manage the data and disseminate the information to different police agencies.

“Whether it’s someone reporting information on heroin trafficking, we’ll give that info to the appropriate investigations crew, or if it’s someone looking for care, we’re going to encourage them to let us pick them up, bring them into our doors and into a rehab,” Hain said.

mejones@chicagotribune.com

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