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New Program Aims To Help People Suffering From Drug And Alcohol Addiction

Daisy Contreras
NPR Illinois

The Springfield Police Department and the Gateway Foundation launched a program Thursday meant to offer immediate help to people with drug and alcohol addiction.

The Safe Passage Initiative will allow any person to enter the city’s police headquarters, or approach an on-duty Springfield police officer and ask for help. A screening process determines if a person is a good candidate for the program. If admitted, those who are in possession of drugs would not be charged.

Springfield Police Chief Kenny Winslow said the department ran a pilot program in early September—with one participant recently completing a 28-day treatment program and another still in it.

“This is not a get-soft-on-crime initiative. This is not for people who are under arrest for another charge. It’s a realization that addiction affects people of all backgrounds and all socio economics.”

Winslow said the initiative is also not for registered sex offenders or for someone who already has three or more drug-related convictions, among other criteria. He said the plan is another way to cut down on crime and unnecessary arrests.

“The benefit of a Safe Passage Program is that assistance will not take days, weeks but rather, immediately,” he said. Winslow said law enforcement officers have only 48 hours to get someone into treatment before they change their mind to get help.

Karen Harrold, program director with the Gateway Foundation is the city’s point person for the Safe Passage Initiative. She said Springfield police officers have welcomed this new resource in addition to Narcan – a medication that helps reverse opioid overdoses. The police department has been using it since 2017.

“And now it’s now one of those things -- well what do we do after we [use] Narcan [on] them? Well, we can actually get them into treatment,” Harrold said.  “I think giving those officers some opportunities on what to do with individuals that they’re helping has definitely been beneficial.”

The Safe Passage Initiative has already been implemented in several cities across the state.

Mayor Jim Langfelder said the program will help build community trust with police, who he said are the first responders to situations where drugs and alcohol are involved. 

For help or more information, contact the Springfield Police Department at 217-788-8325 and the Gateway Foundation at 217-529-9266.

Daisy reported on statehouse issues for our Illinois Issues project. She's a Public Affairs Reporting program graduate from the University of Illinois Springfield. She also graduated from the Illinois Institute of Technology, and has an associates degrees from Truman College. Daisy is from Chicago where she attended Lane Tech High School.
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