Dixon Safe Passage celebrates two successful years, plans to expand

DIXON, Ill. (WIFR) -- Stacey Nielsen never thought she'd be helping people battle an addiction. Just three years ago, she was struggling herself.

"I had a long history of drug and alcohol abuse and with my counselor's help and with an overdose I had in 2014, I got into recovery," says Stacey Nielsen, a volunteer for the Dixon Safe Passage program.

She got better with help from her friends and family, but knows not everyone has that support.

"It's a scary thing to do to go into a treatment center not knowing what to expect, knowing that your life is going to change," says Nielsen.

Now, she steps in for others. As a volunteer for the Dixon Safe Passage program, she makes sure participants get to the treatment facility.

"In two years, we've placed 200 people directly into treatment," says Dixon Police Chief Danny Langloss.

He helped launch the program in 2015, a few months after the city of a little more than 15,000 saw three heroin overdose deaths in just ten days.

"That really rocked our community."

Through the program, anyone struggling with a heroin addiction can come to the Dixon Police Department and ask for help. They're sent to treatment instead of jail.

"We generally know within an hour of where they're going to go," says Langloss. "We have a bed secured for them at a treatment facility and within two hours, they're on their way to treatment."

Langloss calls Safe Passage a success. In fact, Dixon police also work with 60 Illinois police departments that are trying to create similar programs.

"In 2016, that was the first full year of the program, we put more than 100 people into treatment that year and saw a 39 percent decrease in drug crimes...We didn't change the way we were enforcing the law. We didn't change the way we went after drug dealers. We stayed very aggressive on those things. But because we were putting people into treatment and getting the help they needed, we significantly decreased those arrests."

Using a 74,000 dollar grant it received this summer, the Dixon Police Department hopes to expand the program. That expansion will cover five part-time employees and create new partnerships that will help participants find jobs and housing.

Langloss credits the program's success so far to volunteers like Nielsen and partnerships with ten local treatment facilities.

As for Nielsen, she says being a volunteer allows her to remain clean and sober.

"I can say for the first time I'm really happy in the way things are going," says Nielsen." "This just keeps me going."

In addition to the Safe Passage program, the city of Dixon is battling the opioid epidemic in other ways. Chief Langloss says police do high school and community presentations to raise awareness about the dangers of heroin, Narcan is now in all Lee County squad cars and they've established a substance abuse hotline that provides information and resources to those suffering from addiction.

The number for the Substance Abuse Hotline is 866-494-4431.

The Safe Passage program is also looking for volunteers to help take participants to treatment. Those looking to volunteer or needing help can call Dixon Police at 815-288-4411.