Helping to Find “A Way Out”

Drug abuse, overdose and death are a big problem in our country and in Lake County. This is especially true of opioid abuse. There have been more than 800 overdose deaths in Illinois in the past year.

“Heroin and opium used to always be considered an inner city problem. It no longer is,” says the Honorable Fred Foreman, former U.S. Attorney and retired Lake County Judge. As a result, someone you know may be suffering either the effects of substance abuse or the effects of watching a loved one’s downward spiral.

“About 8 years ago my brother Alex died from a heroin overdose,” says Chelsea Laliberte, Public Health Advocate. “I often think to myself, ‘wow, if we had just had an advocate for us back then’.”

As your top law enforcement official in Lake County, I’ve made it my priority to aggressively prosecute those who provide illegal drugs in our community. But we have to take it a step further in order to address the whole problem. As Aaron Lawlor, Lake County Board Chairman puts it, “We need to make sure we’re tackling it from all sides, and that’s law enforcement, that’s prevention, education and then treatment.”

We’re trying to do just that. The LC Opioid Initiative that I helped found, has as its mission the development, implementation, evaluation and sustainment of a multi-strategy, countywide effort to prevent abuse, addiction, overdose, and death. Laliberte observes, “What the Lake County Opioid Initiative has done is created this environment where it’s okay to reach out and say, ‘I need help. Can you help me?’”

Our newest strategy is the “A Way Out” program. “’A Way Out’ is really an incredible, forward-thinking model,” says Andy Duran, Drug Prevention Advocate.

The program gives anyone suffering the effects of substance abuse a chance at recovery. It’s available 24/7. All a person has to do is go to one of 7 police stations in our county and seek help. No criminal charges will be filed as long as the person is seeking assistance. That person will immediately be directed to treatment.

“Treatment is what we need, you know being able to give people the proper treatment at the right time, when they’re ready for it, being able to capitalize on someone who walks into a law enforcement agency and says, ‘I need help’ at the moment when they’re seeking that help is really key,” according to Duran.

“A Way Out” has the backing of the criminal justice community as well as the healthcare community and is based on a program in Massachusetts.

Police departments currently participating are Grayslake, Gurnee, Libertyville, Mundelein, Lake Forest, Round Lake Beach, and Round Lake Park. More departments may be added as the program evolves. It’s important to note that anyone can avail himself or herself of this help whether they live in the participating towns or not.

Lake County has other programs at work to save lives and make our community safer. Police now carry naloxone, a drug that counteracts the effects of overdose when quickly administered. We recently hit a milestone with 100 lives saved by this program.

We also have “Text a Tip”, a 24/7 anonymous communication for youth looking for immediate help for themselves or a friend for mental health, substance abuse, or suicide issues.

All of these programs are saving lives and offering hope to families across our great county.