Winnebago County Considers Adopting Lee County’s Drug Rehab Program


Communities across the country are in a battle against opioid addiction.  Many police agencies are turning to rehabilitation programs.  Lee County’s “Safe Passage” allows drug addicts to turn themselves and their drugs over to police without being charged.

Lee County has used the program for more than two years and have seen positive results from the program.  Now, it is getting attention from Winnebago County officials who are considering adopting the idea.

“This is the one issue where almost everybody I talk to has a story,” said Frank Haney, Winnebago County Board Chairman.

Drug overdose-related deaths continue to happen every day.  Lee County’s Safe Passage program is catching attention from law enforcement departments, but Haney says implementing it in Winnebago County could be tough.

“Number one, we have budget restraints,” said Haney.  “We do not have all the money we want, to have to do all the good we want to do.”

He says it would take creative thinking to fund a program like safe passage.

“We have an obligation to look at solutions and making sure were connecting with our partners in other communities,” said Haney.

Lee County Sheriff John Simonton says the Safe Passage program allows the struggling and addicted to seek help without facing arrest.

“We wanted to do something a little bit different than just trying to arrest our way out of the problem,” said Simonton.

The program started out with just a few people, but after more than two years, Sheriff Simonton says there have already been 200 participants.

“We have a window of opportunity that’s really a matter of hours,” said Sheriff Simonton.  “[That’s] when they have that will power to actually come into a police department or sheriffs department and asking for assistance to help free them of the addiction, we need to find them treatment fast.”

Sheriff Simonton says those lives saved, have translated positively into the Lee County community with a reduction in crime which could benefit Winnebago County too.

“If there’s an idea we can bring back home to Winnebago County or our community that’s going to better serve our citizens then we absolutely need to consider it,” said Haney.

 Winnebago County Sheriff Gary Caruana and Lee County Sheriff John Simonton have had conversations about Safe Passage, but Winnebago County officials say there are still no definite plans to bring the program to the county.

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