Illinois law enforcement moves toward new model in response to heroin epidemic

Opiate possessions are growing, both in Illinois and across the U.S., at the same time as the taxpayer impact of ‘tough-on-crime’ policies is becoming more apparent. Some Illinois law enforcement agencies are moving toward a normalized avenue of station adjustments in cases of persons who voluntarily surrender to authorities. In many cases, persons admitted to this station-adjustment avenue are persons who do not have a criminal record and who appear to be people who would potentially benefit from drug treatment.

Under this station adjustment platform, people addicted to opiates – typically heroin – are allowed to present themselves at a police station for rapid diagnosis and transport to a drug treatment center. Persons who admit their status as addicts can even bring their drugs and paraphernalia to the police station. If they are granted this amnesty adjustment, their goods will be disposed of and they may not face a charge for drug possession. The police departments of the Illinois municipalities of Dixon, Dwight, Naperville, Pontiac, Princeton, and Rolling Meadows have started, or will soon start, an opiate station adjustment program. The overall model has been adopted by approximately 85 police departments in other U.S. states. Not all Illinois police departments have adopted this station-adjustment model.

Action by Illinois law enforcement marks recognition of the growing danger of heroin addiction and drug-related overdose deaths in Illinois. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracked an increase of more than 8% in total drug overdose deaths in Illinois in 2014, from 1,579 in 2013 to 1,705 in the most recently tabulated calendar year. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, 711 of these deaths (42%) were caused by or related to heroin.

The heroin station adjustment model is part of an overall movement within many Illinois police departments toward reconfiguring their first-responder capacities toward crisis alleviation and a reduction in the use of deadly force. For example, the Cook County Jail – Illinois’ largest jail system – this week announced progress towards the projected opening later in 2016 of a 24-hour triage center, which will be oriented toward people with psychiatric or substance-abuse problems.