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McLean Co. Overdose Program Struggles To Overcome Addicts’ Shame

Sonja Workman and Aaron King
Eric Stock
Sonja Workman of Chestnut Health Systems and McLean County Sheriff's Deputy Aaron King help lead the HART program.

Managers of an overdose recovery program in McLean County say they are making a difference, despite challenges in getting addicts to participate.
Since the McLean County Sheriff's Department and Bloomington-based Chestnut Health Systems started the Heroin Abuse Response Team, or HART, 18 months ago, only four of 40 addicts they've tried to reach have agreed to get treatment.

Sheriff's Deputy Aaron King said on WGLT’s Sound Ideas shame prevents many addicts from seeking the help they know they need.

“They understand what they are doing can possibly end their life and as crazy as that sounds, that’s the least of their worries,” King said. “They actually care more about the embarrassment and how they can’t stop doing this thing they know is dangerous and poisonous to their body.”

King added many addicts are also hard to reach as they’ve only been able to make connection to about 60% of the approximately 40 overdose victims they’ve tried to find by reviewing police records in the county.

“A lot of them are transient and don’t have a specific residence they live in or have an updated phone number that we have to get in contact with them,” he said.

King added while many addicts he encounters are skeptical of his intentions, he simply tries to educate them on their options for treatment and provides contact information for Chestnut if they wish to reach them directly.

Sonja Workman, associate director of community care at Chestnut Health Systems in Bloomington, said clients referred to the program get treatment according to a needs assessment. She said that can include providing inpatient and outpatient services and education and linking them to a support system.

“At Chestnut we want to be whole-person centered which focuses on the needs that they have and encompasses all the dimensions of their wellness,” Workman said. “We want to offer people hope and help reduce the shame associated with addiction and recovery.”

McLean County launched the HART program at the same time it rolled out Safe Passages, which offers amnesty to opioid addicts who are willing to seek treatment.

McLean County has experienced a drop in overdose deaths in the last two years after a spike in 2017. King and Workman said it's unclear whether the HART program has helped, but they believe public education  can help limit the prevalence of fentanyl, which is getting mixed with heroin, often with fatal results. 

Workman said McLean County modeled its HART program after a similar effort in Ohio. The Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority provided the seed money of about $34000, largely to market Safe Passages to the community.

Listen to the full interview.

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.