CRYSTAL LAKE – The “A Way Out” program helped Jeremy Caccamo extend his life, his brother said.
Caccamo, 29, of Wonder Lake died this summer because of a heroin overdose, but his brother, Rich Caccamo, is trying to keep his legacy alive and increase awareness of the McHenry County program.
A Way Out – McHenry County aims to fast-track heroin and other drug addicts to treatment by providing a certain amount of amnesty to addicts who want help. The initiative, which started in May, is modeled after Lake County’s program, and so far has helped 51 people, McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally said.
Crystal Lake is the latest city to join the program. It also is the largest city in McHenry County, and its police department is the second-largest law enforcement agency in the county behind the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office.
Woodstock is the only municipality in McHenry County not participating, but Kenneally said Woodstock is going through final legal approvals to join soon.
“We thought it was particularly timely due to the opioid crisis in the county that has not only claimed a lot of lives, but has had cascading consequences across the country,” Kenneally said.
The county is on pace to have more overdose deaths, particularly related to opioids, than last year, with about 50 deaths to date, Kenneally said, adding that the county sees about one person die a week.
Jeremy Caccamo joined the A Way Out program and was able to get treatment from Lutheran Social Services of Illinois in Chicago. He died July 5, but Rich Caccamo said the program helped prolong his life.
“It definitely gave him direction and got him into detox and treatments, but it is a disease. It’s not just a choice, and there are known to be relapses,” said Rich Caccamo, 36, of Crystal Lake. “My advice to anyone coming out of treatment is to find a 12-step program to follow and be persistent, because a lot of the people who relapse say their fallout point was to stop going to meetings because they thought they were doing better.”
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Laura Crain with the McHenry County Substance Abuse Coalition said that of the 51 people who have reached out to police departments, 38 of them qualified for the program. Of the 38, the county was able to place 27 of them in treatment facilities.
“The remainder of them either didn’t get placed or, in all honesty, if you have an opioid user who is sitting for 12 hours, if they start to get sick, they get a desire to go out and use again. Sometimes they choose to leave,” Crain said. “In the hospital, it just depends on availability, and unfortunately in Illinois, we just don’t have the residential and detox resources, but we are doing everything we can.”
An addict can walk into a police department in McHenry County at any time of the day and say they want to participate. If the person has drugs or paraphernalia on them, they can surrender them without fear of being arrested. The program is voluntary, and users can leave at any point.
Within 30 minutes, a police officer has the person go through an intake process, and then the person is taken to Centegra Hospital – Woodstock, where the user will undergo a medical evaluation and assessment to determine what treatment is needed.
Kenneally said that sometimes beds are not immediately available at Centegra. A new navigator position recently added to the State’s Attorney Office helps in cases where someone cannot be placed in a residential program within the first 24 hours and has to be released from the hospital.
“Then, the navigator follows up with them, along with local treatment providers, to make sure we can get them connected to resources,” Kenneally said. “If beds aren’t available, we’ll transport them home or to a safe place, and then check back in to make sure they get the treatment they need.”
The McHenry County Mental Health Board provided $75,000 for treatment costs for those who are underinsured or uninsured.
Discussion about the possibility of arresting users who come in for help arose during a recent Crystal Lake City Council meeting. Kenneally said that each department maintains the right to arrest someone if they think someone is trying to use the program in bad faith.
Crystal Lake Police Chief James Black said the department will not arrest anyone unless their possession of drugs is an amount beyond personal use. He said the goal of the policy is to prevent drug dealers from claiming to be addicts to unload large quantities of heroin or other drugs.
“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 option to take action,” Black said.
No one has been arrested so far, and Kenneally said he does not expect any arrests to happen.
Rich Caccamo said that with social media today, it would only take one arrest to erase the trust built by the program between the community and police.
“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,” Rich Caccamo said. “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.”
Rich Caccamo hosted an “Always Remember” event Sept. 9 in Wonder Lake to spread awareness of the heroin epidemic and the danger of overdoses. He said he hopes to host the event annually.
Jeremy Caccamo left behind a fiancée who he recently had proposed to, along with his mother, who was devastated, Rich said.
Kenneally said he has received three “thank you” cards so far from either the user themselves or a family member of someone who turned their lives around.
“We think it’ll help people abusing drugs and committing crimes to get out of that system,” Kenneally said. “What is going to change the dynamic is expanding the recovery community and offering people the resources they need.”