Arlington Heights launches program to battle opioid epidemic
Arlington Heights, with the help of a hospital and three community agencies, launched a program Thursday to help residents addicted to opioids get on a path to recovery.
The village's Community Addiction and Recovery Effort, or CARE, comes as communities across the suburbs continue to deal with substance abuse issues, and after neighboring Elk Grove Village unveiled a major initiative of its own last month.
Under the Arlington Heights program, an individual who comes into contact with police or firefighter/paramedics -- whether it be because of an overdose or voluntarily walking into a police or fire station -- will be given a ride to the Linden Oaks Behavioral Health Unit at Northwest Community Hospital. There, they'll meet with a licensed clinical counselor to determine what kind of treatment is needed, be it at the hospital or at one of three partner agencies: Live4Lali, the Addiction Policy Forum or OMNI Youth Services.
Arlington Heights residents with limited or no insurance coverage are eligible to apply for financial assistance through the village health department's counseling subsidy program.
Qualifications are based on income, family size and hardship.
"We want to work with our residents and make sure that cost is not a barrier to care," Nicole Espinosa, the village's social services coordinator, said during a news conference at village hall.
Those who don't want to interact with police can directly call Linden Oaks at (847) HEALING.
But department officials said Thursday officers have embraced a philosophy that emphasizes addiction as a disease, rather than a crime.
"I think of it in terms of a velvet glove approach when it comes to addicts and users, and the iron fist approach when it comes to those that manufacture and distribute illicit substances," Police Chief Gerald Mourning said.
Like Elk Grove, Arlington Heights spent the last 18 months studying other programs across the country. Both municipalities are launching efforts to better help addicts access treatment, not unlike programs Rolling Meadows, Naperville and Lake County have had since 2015 or 2016.
Danya Vasquez came to the Arlington Heights program launch event Thursday to lend her support while telling her personal story of addiction and recovery.
She says she walked into the Libertyville police station in October 2016 "a broken woman," but there she received kindness and empathy from officers who drove her to a treatment center, as part of the Lake County Opioid Initiative.
"I thought for the first time there that everything might be all right," Vasquez said. "And that's where I began my journey."
She said she went through the treatment program, later entered a halfway house, and is now sober and employed.
Arlington Heights police Cmdr. Joe Pinnello, who's been leading the CARE program, said the discussion early on among the various agencies was to coordinate efforts so people don't "slip through the cracks."
"There's a stigma related to substance abuse disorder," Pinnello said. "People hide in the shadows.
"We think it's very important that we bring it out to the residents of our community and let them know what is there."