Lake County Opioid Initiative Launches Countywide Substance Abuse Treatment Access Program Through Police Departments

Chief Quote Black“A Way Out” gives individuals an opportunity to seek treatment and recovery; this program has the potential to save and change lives,”  says Lake County, Ill. State’s Attorney Mike Nerheim, who has made the issue his top priority since taking office in 2012.

Today, Law Enforcement officials, health care providers, impacted community members and Cofounders of the Lake County Opioid Initiative (LCOI) announced the launch of the Lake County Opioid Initiative’s “A Way Out” program. This innovative program gives individuals the opportunity to avoid entering the criminal justice system or more importantly, another chance at living a healthy life.

AWOLogo“A Way Out” is a Lake County, Illinois Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion pilot program, designed to fast-track users to substance abuse programs and services. It is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at participating police departments across Lake County and it ensures no criminal charges will be sought for those that may be in possession of narcotics or paraphernalia, as long as assistance is sought out by the prospective program participant.

“A Way Out” was developed by the Lake County Opioid Initiative to create additional treatment access points, reduce crime, reduce substance-related harms, re-frame the role law enforcement plays in community safety, and unite the community. For far too long, substance abuse has been stigmatized. Substance abuse is a public health problem that needs to be addressed as such. Lake County Opioid Initiative is committed to developing innovative ways to create positive change in our community as it relates to substance abuse and mental health.

“As an individual in recovery who has been in and out of the criminal justice system, drug court saved my life. But, if I were offered the opportunity to get help before I entered the system, many of the stresses I face today would be off my shoulders so I could focus on recovery,” said Kevin Kaminski who is in recovery.  

Program Overview

By taking advantage of “ A Way Out”, participants and their loved ones are given the opportunity to end the destructive cycle that substance abuse, dependency or addiction has caused in their lives. Participants are given the chance to avoid the biological, psychological and environmental harms and are set on a direct course to recovery. The only requirement of participants is their self-motivation to seek recovery.

The program is set up so that participants will NOT be criminally charged. There is no need to fear arrest or prosecution for seeking participation in this program.

You can find “A Way Out” in just a few easy steps:

  1. Locate a participating police department
  2. Walk in through the main doors
  3. Tell an officer that you are requesting help

“The Lake County Opioid Initiative, First Responders, and Hospitals are doing an extraordinary job of saving the lives of overdose victims in Lake County. The need to connect these individuals and their families and loved ones to treatment and support services is imperative! A Way Out is an innovative program connecting those struggling with a substance use disorder to the treatment they need. Most importantly, they are “intercepted” before they have initial or continued criminal justice system involvement. Because addiction is a chronic disease, people can’t simply stop using drugs for a few days and be cured,” said Bruce Johnson, CEO of Nicasa Behavioral Health Services. “Addiction is a complex but treatable disease that affects both brain function and behavior. It is important to note that no single treatment is right for everyone and people need to have quick access to culturally competent treatment. Most patients will need long-term or repeated behavioral health care therapies combined with medication assisted treatment to stop using and recover their lives. Treatment should include both primary care and mental health services as needed. Staying in treatment long enough is extremely critical. Service providers throughout Lake County can help and they have local as well as nationwide referral networks to connect individuals to treatment.”

Statewide, Illinois has been significantly impacted by the opioid epidemic. A statewide assessment reported that heroin accounted for 54% of drug-related fatalities in 2014 and 55% between January and October 2015. In addition, Lake County has had a total of 83 overdose reversals via Naloxone administration by law enforcement since Christmas Day 2014. The numbers are certainly staggering and concerning. As a result, the Lake County Opioid Initiative has been actively working to reduce overdose deaths and combat addiction.

The Center for Disease Control reported that more persons died from drug overdoses in the United States in 2014 than during any previous year on record. From 2000 to 2014 nearly 500,000 people in the United States have died from drug overdoses. In 2014, there were approximately one and a half times more drug overdose deaths in the United States than deaths from motor vehicle crashes. Opioids, primarily prescription pain relievers and heroin, are the main drugs associated with overdose deaths. In 2014, opioids were involved in 28,647 deaths, or 61% of all drug overdose deaths; the rate of opioid overdoses has tripled since 2000. The 2014 data demonstrate that the United States’ opioid overdose epidemic includes two distinct but interrelated trends: a 15-year increase in overdose deaths involving prescription opioid pain relievers and a recent surge in illicit opioid overdose deaths, driven largely by heroin.

“We are in the midst of an epidemic, here and across the nation.  Far too many lives have been lost and far too many families have been devastated.  This program seeks to help people get the treatment that they seek, without entering the criminal justice system,” said Lake County State’s Attorney Michael G. Nerheim.  “I am confident that it will save lives, reduce crime, and make our community safer.  Beyond that, it is simply the right thing to do.”

The Lake County Opioid Initiative Co-Founders would like to thank the LCOI task force members as well as our partners for the “A Way Out” Program:

  • Advocate Condell Medical Center
  • Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital
  • Northwestern Memorial Health Care (Lake Forest/Grayslake)
  • Vista Health Systems
  • Gateway Foundation Lake Villa
  • Nicasa Behavioral Health Services
  • Lake County Health Department
  • Live4Lali
  • LEAD (Leading Efforts Against Drugs)
  • Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office
  • Phase one participating Police Departments: Grayslake, Gurnee, Libertyville, Mundelein, Lake Forest, Round Lake Beach and Round Lake Park

“We’ve been hard at work in Congress on legislation to help people struggling with addiction, and we’ve made huge progress passing our bipartisan bill Lali’s Law,” Rep. Dold said. “As important, though, is making sure that local resources are available to those who need them.  ‘A Way Out’ will save lives by giving those in-need access to treatment and a chance at recovery.”

Important FAQ’s

Who is not eligible to participate in “ A Way Out?”

We do not discriminate against any individuals who want to participate in “A Way Out”. However, if you have a warrant out for your arrest or are currently being charged with a crime in Lake County, we cannot permit participation. The police department will look into your case and determine the appropriate course of action.

How does/should substance use disorder treatment work?

Please review the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Principles of Effective Treatment, for information on a recommended approach to the treatment process, and NIDA’s overview on Types of Treatment. We are committed to upholding evidence-based models of treatment through “A Way Out.”

Will anyone know about my participation in “ A Way Out”?

No. This program maintains 100% confidentiality and waivers are signed to uphold this promise.

Can my loved one(s) join me in the process? 

Yes. We provide waivers for you to sign indicating specific details of your loved one’s involvement in your treatment plan based entirely on your preference.

If I become an “A Way Out” participant and relapse after completing treatment, will I be kicked out of the program?

No. Relapse or lapses in sobriety can be part of the recovery process. We do not view them as failures, only indicators that more treatment may be required. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Relapse rates (i.e., how often symptoms recur) for people with addiction and other substance use disorders are similar to relapse rates for other well-understood chronic medical illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma, which also have both physiological and behavioral components. Treatment of chronic diseases involves changing deeply imbedded behaviors, and relapse does not mean treatment has failed. For a person recovering from addiction, lapsing back to drug use indicates that treatment needs to be reinstated or adjusted or that another treatment should be tried.”

For program details, participating police departments, and FAQ’s please visit


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