Elk Grove Village launches major coordinated campaign against opioids
In the broadest initiative against opioid issues by a single municipality across the region, the overdose reversal drug Narcan is set to become as widely available in Elk Grove Village as automatic external defibrillators that help with cardiac arrest.
At least 20 Narcan kits in public and private spaces is one angle of a six-pronged campaign the village launched Thursday to respond to the opioid crisis, which Police Chief Chuck Walsh said has hit the community with 676 drug-related calls to police, 595 drug-related arrests and 26 responses to overdoses since 2013.
Elk Grove Village is spending $300,000 to $400,000 this year to place Narcan kits across the community, shift law enforcement to focus on compassion, partner with treatment institutions, follow up with people who seek assistance, establish support groups and run an education campaign about the realities of addiction.
"It's about doing everything we can for everyone impacted by this devastating disease," said Desmond Raftery, who leads Elk Grove Village's social services. "And using recovery, compassion and commitment as the pillars to help others and to save lives."
Mayor Craig Johnson said Walsh and officials spent 18 months studying programs across the nation, incorporating several successful approaches into what's called Elk Grove Village Cares. Johnson said he's learned public discomfort about discussing addiction needs to end.
"Addiction is a disease," he said. "That's a point we're going to hammer, hammer, hammer."
Elk Grove Village police revived overdose victims with Narcan 16 times from 2013 to 2017. Police and firefighters already have completed 11 revivals this year.
"The goal is not one more overdose in our community," Walsh said.
Placement of Narcan kits, which contain a nasal spray that counteracts the breathing suppression of an overdose, could help, officials say.
Johnson said the village will place kits in library, public works, park district and village buildings. Officials are in talks with schools, restaurants and businesses about placing kits there, following the lead of programs established only in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Gloucester, Massachusetts, he said.
Police will strive toward the no-more-overdoses goal by partnering with three treatment agencies -- The SHARE Program in Hoffman Estates; Gateway Foundation in Aurora, Chicago and Lake Villa; and Amita Health Behavioral Medicine Institute in Hoffman Estates.
When a user approaches police seeking help, Walsh said an officer will stay with the person at the station until appropriate treatment can be found, with or without the user having health insurance. Once a treatment site is identified, the officer will drive the user there.
"They won't be left alone," Johnson said. "We're going to stay with them throughout this process."
Raftery said village social workers will follow up after each person begins treatment, and they'll do it often.
"Getting clean from drugs is very likely the hardest thing that they will ever do in their lives," Raftery said. "If it takes years, we will continue to be with them. That is our care, our commitment to them."
Elk Grove isn't the first community to start helping opioid users access treatment. Rolling Meadows, Naperville and Lake County have had similar programs since 2015 or 2016.
In these communities, police still enforce drug possession and trafficking laws.
"You have to come and ask us for help. That's the trigger," Walsh said. "It's too late if we stop you and find it (drugs) ourselves."
Elk Grove Village Cares also includes an effort with faith communities to establish Narcotics Anonymous support groups and family support groups for users' relatives.
"We really do believe it's going to save lives," said the Rev. Mike Gates of Living Hope Church.
Johnson said he was motivated to fight opioid addiction because he saw the drug's ravages on a former member of a high school wrestling team he coached. The man was 23 when Johnson ran into him at an event, but the mayor said he was nearly unrecognizable and appeared more like 45 or 50.
"That's what heroin does to you," Johnson said.
Parents of Elk Grove Village residents fallen to opioid addiction -- such as 21-year-old Timothy Spence, who died of an overdose in August 2016 -- say they wish the comprehensive program was available when they needed it most.
"Nothing prepares a person for the agonizing heartbreak when your child is battling addiction or sadly loses that battle," said Denise Spence, Timothy's mother. "This program is a starting point to have an open dialogue about the face and reality of addiction."
Johnson said he knows there will be missteps as Elk Grove Village Cares gets started. He said the village board is committed to continuing the battle, even if it remains costly.
"We're not going to save everyone," he said. "But everyone we can save is a life -- precious, worth having."
• Daily Herald staff writer Chacour Koop contributed to this report.