McHenry County’s fight against the opioid epidemic has taken a major step forward in recent months since the launch of A Way Out – McHenry County in May.
The program, which is modeled after a successful program in Lake County, aims to fast-track heroin and other drug addicts to treatment by providing amnesty to addicts who want help. In only five months, the program already has helped 51 people, with a coalition of local agencies taking up the program.
Crystal Lake is the latest city to join, but they’re not exactly all in. At the recommendation of Police Chief Jim Black, the City Council has decided to not guarantee amnesty for people who seek help through the program.
Black clarified his decision at a recent council meeting.
“We are not looking to arrest subjects seeking assistance; however, if there are instances where we believe a subject may not be participating in the program in good faith or is attempting to use the program as a narcotics dealer to dispose of drugs or avoid criminal prosecution, then we keep [open the] option to take action,” he said.
Black’s argument does not take into account the damage even one arrest would cause the program, which depends upon users trusting that they can seek help without being taken to jail.
That is a major concern for Wonder Lake resident Rich Caccamo, who lost his brother, Jeremy, to a heroin overdose this summer and now is working to raise awareness of A Way Out.
“Not only do we need full cooperation from trained and trusted officers when someone reaches out for help, but we also need to instill a relationship of trust that they can come to the police department to get help,” Caccamo told the Northwest Herald. “When an individual goes to them to get help with the program, we need them to go with no fear and not be treated like a criminal, but someone who has a disease and is coming to them for help.”
Caccamo is right.
The amnesty guarantee in the A Way Out program builds trust within the community that far outweighs the risk of any potential drug dealer escaping consequences for drug possession.
The A Way Out program will be more effective in Crystal Lake if addicts know that they will not be arrested for seeking help. The city should commit to 100 percent participation to help as many people as possible.