Whether you’re a Cubs, White Sox or Cardinals fan, one thing is true for Illinoisans -- we love our baseball teams. Growing up a Cubs fan I lived in the cycle of loss after loss, until something amazing happened. In 2016, I went to a spring training game in Arizona and said, “This year is the year.” Of course I had said this many times before, but something was different this time. That year the Cubs won the World Series, ending their 108-year drought.
The cycle of loss after loss is familiar to anyone impacted by addiction. Too many families in Illinois have lost loved ones to this disease. Nearly every three hours someone in Illinois dies from a drug overdose; that’s seven lives every single day, leaving communities devastated. Leaders in Illinois are stepping up to the plate to combat addiction and end the painful series of losing loved ones to a preventable and treatable disease. They are offering solutions, providing hope, inspiring thousands across the state, trying to make something amazing happen.
And they are. The Innovation Now initiative recognizes innovators across the country responding to addiction in new, effective, and inspiring ways in multiple sectors: prevention, treatment, recovery, child welfare, criminal justice, law enforcement and healthcare -- because we need everyone on the same team to solve this.
The Illinois Innovation Now report features eight incredible programs at the forefront of this disease that are true game-changers.
Two key ways to prevent addiction are for kids to be involved in the community and to have a positive adult relationship. Operation Snowball provides that to students while empowering them to make healthy decisions. The group is for 6th-12th graders and is led by high schoolers who partner with adults who guide activities. From the positive relationships built to the health education, students build self-confidence, understanding and leadership skills.
Lake County Police Officers couldn’t watch on the sideline as their community was devastated by a disease. The police department decided to do something about it, so they created A Way Out, a law enforcement program designed to fast-track people with a substance use disorder to treatment. Lake County Police Department is open 24/7 to provide a warm hand-off for someone in need. Maybe the most incredible part to this program is there’s no limit to how many times a person can go through the program, because as we know addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease.
When someone decides they need help for a substance use disorder, it’s critical for them to get immediate assistance. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, anyone suffering with an addiction can go to a Dixon Police Station for help. Safe Passage identifies individuals’ needs and connects them to a treatment that best fits their unique situation. To ensure people get help in a timely manner, the program partner with treatment providers which helps participants get into treatment faster.
Healthcare professionals help those in need, but what happens when they are in need of assistance themselves? Positive Sobriety Institute connects healthcare professionals struggling with addiction to treatment. The Institute gets to the root of what’s going on in the person’s life physically, mentally, emotionally and professionally. If someone is deemed unfit to continue their practice they are referred to a specific treatment program.
Instead of arresting people with a substance use disorder, TASC Specialized Case Management is an alternative to incarceration. The program screens for substance use and mental health disorders, performs an assessment and makes a referral to treatment. They even assist with housing, education, and employment. To date the program has helped nearly 5,000 people!
Addiction doesn’t discriminate, and yet, there’s still a stigma around this disease that can affect anyone. With the mission to reduce stigma around addiction, Chicago Recovering Communities Coalition (CRCC) educates communities in the Chicagoland area of the nature of addiction, recovery and mental illness. CRCC helps individuals with an addiction access and sustain long-term recovery.
Addiction is a treatable disease. Family Recovery and Reunification Program uses this fact to guide their process in reconnecting parents and children. The program helps families whose children are placed into foster care as a result of substance misuse-related abuse or neglect. The goal is to reunify a family after treatment when the parents can provide a safe and drug-free home for their children.
In many cases, pregnant women who are incarcerated aren’t given time to bond with their baby, but the Moms and Babies program changes that. Moms and Babies is out of the Decatur Correctional Center in Illinois and allows incarcerated mothers to keep their newborns with them, nurturing bonds with their baby. Upon release, TASC continues case management, home-visits and linkages to community services.
It can be easy to get caught in the negative stats surrounding addiction, but we are looking for reasons to be hopeful. We are finding programs that offer treatment, prevention, recovery, programs that reconnect families and eliminate stigma, people who are making a difference and saving lives in Illinois. It is because of these eight innovators stepping up to the plate and hitting home runs on solutions to this epidemic that we have hope for a brighter, healthier and safer future.