LOCKPORT – The Lockport Police Department is taking a step toward helping residents with heroin and other drug addiction problems find their way toward recovery.
Police Chief Terry Lemming announced Wednesday night that Jan. 1 will mark the first day of the department's "Safe Passage Initiative," a program in which law enforcement will help local addicts looking to get clean find treatment regardless of their health insurance status.
The program is part of a collaboration with the Lemont and Mokena police departments and is based on the one started by the Dixon police and Lee County sheriff's departments in September 2015, Lemming said at the Lockport City Council's regular Committee of the Whole meeting.
Lemming, who is also president of the Illinois Drug Enforcement Officers Association, told committee members that the initiative will not only help victims of the disease but the community as a whole because "as sure as night follows day" drug addiction leads to criminal behavior such as theft and domestic abuse.
Like Dixon and Lee County, the three departments will work with A Man in Recovery Foundation to place addicts who voluntarily walk into police headquarters during regular hours find treatment centers suitable for their recovery. The addicts must be residents of the community the department services.
So far four treatment centers have given assurance that addicts willing to work on their recovery will be admitted even if they don’t have insurance, Lemming said after the meeting.
A Man in Recovery has helped Lockport, Mokena and Lemont police find and train eight local volunteers who will guide addicts through withdrawal and with immediate medical needs under the supervision of treatment specialists from the foundation, Lemming said. The treatment specialists will then assist in placing the addicts in recovery programs.
The vetted volunteers are either former drug addicts or family members of overdose victims, he said.
According to Lemming, the nationwide heroin epidemic is hitting home locally, where the "boy and girl next door" are getting addicted and "it is virtually impossible to get off heroin by yourself."
Last month, two Lockport residents experienced heroin overdoses, one of them fatal, according to Lemming.
According to the Will County website, six overdose deaths, all linked with heroin, have occurred in Lockport and Lockport Township so far this year.
As of Monday, there have been 70 heroin overdose deaths in Will County in 2016, compared to 53 in 2015 and 35 in 2014, according to the website.
The Centers for Disease Control reports on its website that national heroin-related overdose deaths have more than quadrupled since 2010, with an increase of 20.6 percent from 2014 to 2015, when nearly 13,000 people died.
"The problem is so bad that we're not going to 'arrest' ourselves out of this situation," Lemming said. "We have to find a new strategy."
According to a Nov. 4 post on the Dixon Police Department's Facebook page, in the past year its program, modeled on the one originally launched by the police department in Gloucester, Mass., has helped put 120 people in treatment centers.
Quiet zone funding approved
During the city council meeting Wednesday night, council members, in a 6-1 vote, approved a resolution dedicating the $2.55 million due to the city through a contract with oil company Ducere LLC to funding a quiet zone project for the city's 11 train crossings.
Voting against the measure was Alderman Jason VanderMeer, who has been critical of plans to directly allocate the Ducere funds to establishing quiet zones, rather than adding them to the capital improvement projects fund and then doling them out for each project with approval from the city council.
Alderman JR Gillogly was absent.