An increasing number of cities are using the Safe Passage program pioneered in Gloucester, Mass., where drug users who present themselves to police are fast-tracked into rehab. The program is drawing many takers in some Illinois cities–but very few in others.
Two years have passed since police in Dixon, Ill., began a bold experiment in the face of a spiraling heroin epidemic: Instead of arresting drug users, it would usher them into treatment. Since then, the program known as Safe Passage has expanded into surrounding counties and placed 170 people into rehab, says the Chicago Tribune. Police Chief Danny Langloss said an informal review of their progress showed that more than half had success in treatment — with the rest of the community benefiting, too. Drug arrests dropped by 39 percent in 2016. “I think that the program plays a big factor in that,” Langloss said.
Seventy-miles away in Elgin, Ill., a different picture emerges. The city’s police have offered a similar service since January, advertising it through social and traditional media. But despite a population that is seven times larger than Dixon’s, only three people have expressed interest in getting into treatment. None actually ended up there. Lt. Frank Trost called it “kind of mind-boggling to us.” Such are the varying results of Safe Passage-like programs. Modeled after a pioneering initiative in Gloucester, Mass., the programs seek to change the relationship between police and drug users. Users walk into a police station, surrender whatever drugs and paraphernalia they have and ask for help. (People caught while committing a crime aren’t eligible). In return, police fast-track the users into rehab.