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Sheriff: New Opioid Program Offers 'Help Not Handcuffs'

Sheriff speaks at a podium
Mary Cullen
McLean County Sheriff Jon Sandage introduces the Safe Passage program alongside local partners at McLean County's Government Center on Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018.

The McLean County Sheriff’s Department rolled out a new program Wednesday to tackle the county's opioid epidemic that's taken 78 lives since 2015.

Safe Passage is a collaborative effort with the McLean County Opioid Initiative. The program goes into effect immediately and allows opioid addicts to seek help from law enforcement without fear of arrest.

Sheriff Jon Sandage said through Safe Passage, “law enforcement will offer help not handcuffs.”

“We’d ask them some questions as far as what they are addicted to, any medical issues, things like that,” Sandage said. “We then would get on the phone with Chestnut (Health Systems), let them know what we have and then we will transport that person out to the crisis stabilization center to get the recovery process started.”

Sandage said addicts can seek help at the Bloomington, Normal, McLean County, and Illinois State University police departments, which have 24-hour lobby assistance.

The program also includes outreach to residents who have experienced an opioid overdose and recovered.

“We realize that not everybody wants to come into a police department, so we want to make sure we are still reaching those people, so we will go to their door—a police officer and an addiction counselor—and let them know what services we have to offer and what we can do for them,” Sandage said.

Sandage said the program will benefit those who voluntarily admit they need help.

“If they don’t initiate the contact with the police and they’re caught with any type of drugs, they’re going to be arrested just like any other case,” Sandage said.

The program will partner with Chestnut Health SystemsOSF St. Joseph’s Medical Center, and Advocate Bromenn Medical Center to provide recovery services.

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