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DeKalb County lands $900k grant for addict diversion programs

October 9, 2018

SYCAMORE – Peggy Carey visited her DeKalb County Court Services office over a weekend, just to check her email and find out whether the county would receive a grant that will help save lives in the battle against opioids.

The email came Sept. 28. Carey saw. She texted.

“I was texting all my friends – ‘we got it!’ ” said Carey, who wrote the grant application along with Adult Supervision Supervisor Steve Sells. “I was very excited. Writing grants is not easy.”

“It” is a $900,000 federal grant over three years that will help the DeKalb County Drug Overdose Prevention Program add a vital offering: diversion programs to help keep those battling opioid addiction out of jail, and get them into treatment.

“That’s the missing piece,” said Margi Gilmour, the county’s court services director. “If we can get them into treatment, this is going to help remove a barrier for individuals who are fighting this epidemic.”

The first step toward the diversion program is hiring a coordinator, and the overview of the position is still being ironed out. When it’s finished, it will be posted on the county’s website.

In the broader scope, Court Services will be meeting with many entities in the near future to hammer out all the details of how the program will work. The state’s attorney’s and public defender’s offices, DeKalb County Health Department, the jail and law enforcement will all have seats at that table.

“The whole point is to figure out what works best for DeKalb County,” Carey said. “Not what works in Cook County.”

The bottom line is getting people into treatment, rather than jail, Carey said.

“It’s cheaper to do treatment than to put an addict in jail,” Carey said, “and we want to get them out of the court system and back into their lives.”

DeKalb County Coroner Dennis Miller, who sits on the DOPP board, said the county has seen eight opioid-related deaths so far this year, compared with 16 in 2017. He said the number of lives saved by timely use of the anti-overdose drug NARCAN, have at least doubled this year.

The grant funds, through the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistants, could be used to expand NARCAN training, build new partnerships, and even subsidize treatment for people who don’t have insurance.

The county formed the overdose prevention program after then-board member Jeff Metzger presented the idea. It led to first responders being equipped with NARCAN.

Since then, county officials have expanded their initiatives. They provided NARCAN to police forces whose doses were expiring, and are working to equip more groups with the life-saving drug. For instance, the DeKalb County Health Department just dropped off a supply with the DeKalb Park District last week. Workers will keep NARCAN in their trucks, according to Cindy Graves, the health department’s director of community health and prevention, as well as health education and emergency preparedness.

“They could be making rounds and find somebody on a bench,” said Graves, a former emergency room director. Because of that former role, she made an important distinction: The NARCAN that the overdose prevention program provides goes only to people without medical training – such as police, homeless shelter staff, or say, a park district employee.

Graves said she hopes the diversion program can extend interventions to family members of addicts. She said one of her happiest moments was learning from the Illinois Department of Health Services department, which supplies the NARCAN, that once a family member or friend of someone suffering goes through NARCAN training, they can be provided the drug, as well.

“That absolutely made my day,” she said. “I was so happy because the last thing I want is a family member who’s living this, and to tell them, ‘I’m sorry, but I can’t supply you with this.’ ”

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