McHenry County State's Attorney's Office launches program to fast-track addicts to treatment

Police will walk users through intake process upon request

WOODSTOCK – The McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office and other McHenry County agencies are launching a program to fast-track heroin and other drug addicts to treatment.

“A Way Out – McHenry County” is set to launch Monday. The program will provide easier access to treatment as well as a certain amount of amnesty to drug and alcohol addicts who want help.

The program is modeled after Lake County’s “A Way Out.”

The McHenry County Mental Health Board provided $75,000 to go toward treatment costs for those who are underinsured or uninsured.

Through “A Way Out,” someone can walk into most police departments in McHenry County, all hours of the day and say they want to participate in the program. If the person has any drugs or paraphernalia on them, they can surrender those without fear of being arrested.

A police officer then will have the person go through an intake process, and he or she will take the person to Centegra Hospital – Woodstock, where the drug or alcohol user will undergo a medical evaluation and level of care assessment to determine what treatment is needed.

The county has partnered with Gateway and Rosecrance treatment centers, which have agreed to give “A Way Out” participants priority for available inpatient beds in rehabilitation facilities, officials said. Rosecrance offers intensive outpatient programs in McHenry County as well.

“We know a lot of people in the throes of heroin addiction, even if they want to get help, are living on the margins of society,” McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally said. “They don’t know where to go, so they stay in their addiction. … We wanted to create centralized locations where you can walk in and get help regardless of your resources or circumstances.”

In McHenry County, one person a week will die because of a drug overdose, and the biggest benefit of the program is its life-saving possibilities, Kenneally said.

“We have seen in this community the devastating effects that drugs have on individuals, families and the community,” he said. “I am hoping this program is a step in the right direction in terms of rectifying that.”

Lake County’s “A Way Out” has served 118 people since its June launch, and McHenry County is projecting similar numbers, said Laura Crain with the McHenry County Substance Abuse Coalition.

Crain said the program is a way to open a discussion about the way people talk about addiction.

“It’s an opportunity to have a discussion and start understanding treatment, not consequence,” she said. “There has been for a long time a philosophy of arrest, arrest, arrest, and it doesn’t play out. … To have the state’s attorney and law enforcement behind that concept is so critical.”

Cary Police Chief Patrick Finlon said he couldn’t speculate on whether the program would reduce arrests for controlled substance possession, but he favored it regardless.

“If it helps one person, I think it’s a successful program,” he said. “And it’s not more labor intensive on the law enforcement side. If we were to encounter them and arrest them, we would still process them and take them to jail, which is in Woodstock anyway.”

If there is a warrant out for someone’s arrest, there is a possibility that person will be served that warrant, although Kenneally said he was willing to work with people to quash some warrants pending treatment.

The police department will run a background check on program participants. Pending criminal charges don’t effect one’s ability to participate in “A Way Out.”

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