DuPage County is contributing $100,000 to kick-start two projects to combat the opioid crisis.
Half the funding will be used to develop a "substance use treatment navigation" system to help individuals seeking treatment for opioid use disorder. The other half will be used to start a specialty drug court for first-time offenders.
The plan on how to use the $100,000 came from the Heroin Opioid Prevention and Education Taskforce. The task force -- a joint operation of the county board and county health department -- is comprehensively assessing opioid use in DuPage and recommending actionable policies, initiatives and programs.
The task force was created amid a rising death toll from overdoses across the suburbs. In 2017, DuPage recorded 95 confirmed opioid-related deaths, the same number as 2016, according to the coroner's office.
"A multifaceted framework of prevention, intervention and treatment is needed to address this emergency," said Karen Ayala, executive director of the health department.
The projects announced Tuesday are a first step.
"We know $100,000 really won't go very far," said Dr. Lanny Wilson, task force co-chairman. "But this was seed money to come up with creative new ideas. By giving us this $100,000, the county allowed us to think out of the box."
The first program -- a substance use treatment navigation system -- will help ensure that a partnership of providers is available to treat substance use as a medical condition.
It also will provide an expansion of services to quickly and effectively link individuals to the most appropriate level treatment when they are looking for help.
"We must invest in a substance abuse treatment system," Coroner Richard Jorgensen said. "As a doctor, I know that linking people to treatment early is the best help that we can give them."
Meanwhile, the new specialty court for first-time drug offenders will provide a more comprehensive and supportive approach for individuals struggling with drug use disorders.
While the county has a drug court, Chief Judge Daniel Guerin said it's aimed at individuals who have significant criminal histories and longtime addictions.
The problem, he said, is that first-time offenders without criminal histories weren't being funneled into a special court to address their issues.
"It is extremely important that we address this problem on the front-end with just as much time and resources ... as we are doing for some of the other people who are in the regular drug court," Guerin said.
The goal of the new court will be to educate individuals and link them to resources that will help them avoid future interactions with the criminal justice system.
Funding from the county will be used to provide special training to judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers and others. The money also will help pay for equipment, including GPS devices.
The new courtroom could open as soon as July.
In the meantime, Wilson said the task force is going to seek grant money for the specialty court and other initiatives.
"Our long-term goal of taking these deaths down to zero is going to require a lot more money and a lot more time," Wilson said.