Task Force to testify before Legislators

The Task Force was asked by representative Sam Yingling to testify to the State Young Adult Heroin Use Task Force today in Springfield. Here is this the transcript of our testimony.

No first time drug abuser wakes up and says let’s take Heroin today!

The path to Heroin Abuse starts long before that.

As the project coordinator for the Lake County Underage Drinking and Drug Prevention Task Force and an employee of the Lake County Health Department our organizations focus on numerous strategies to reduce youth substance abuse. Our experience has shown us that there are many strategies towards reducing use. The one I am going to talk about here is diversion.

Lake County has an organized prescription drug disposal network of 15 prescription drug disposal boxes that are sited in participating municipal police departments. In 2012 we collected 7,957 pounds of unused prescription drugs from Lake County residents; in 2013 we collected right around 8,300 pounds. This number grows every year as we do a better job of getting the word out.

To put this number in perspective the DEA who organizes a highly successful Illinois take back day’s twice a year in April and in October collected approximately 60,000 pounds statewide. Our 700,000 residents who are approximately 5% of the state’s population contribute about 14% of the states total poundage.

So why is collecting and properly disposing of unused prescription drugs important in reducing Heroin use? Misuse of prescription drugs can and does lead to prescription drug abuse. Studies from SAMSHA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) and NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) show that roughly 20%-30% of Heroin addicts got their start by abusing prescription drugs; interestingly it’s not the leading initiator– Marijuana is at 50%.

So let’s look at the prescription drug abuse “path” a future heroin addict may take. Looking in Mom and Dad’s medicine cabinet reveals some old and forgotten vicodins, from a wisdom tooth surgery a few years ago. The youth grabs them and takes them over time, eventually running out; the next step is to look in friends and relatives medicine cabinets over time until eventually cleaning all those medicine cabinets out of any of these addictive medications.

So now we are faced with a youth who has a prescription drug habit with no ready means of supply.

So off they go, somewhere, to buy these pills illegally. Maybe they have $200 in their pocket. When they find a dealer they are confronted with the black market price on these types of pills, typically a Vicodin or Oxycodone costs between $25-$35 per pill.

But wait, there is something is quite similar chemically to Oxycodone available, it’s cheaper and gives you a bigger high. This drug is called Heroin.

Depending on where you live in the state the cost of a hit of Heroin is $5-10 dollars. So the move to Heroin becomes one of simple economics, with deadly consequences.

The Illinois Youth Survey (a survey of 8th, 10th and 12th graders done every two years) shows that 8.1% of Illinois 12th graders have used a prescription drug to get high in the last year. More troublesome is 5.7% of these same 12th graders have used at least once in the last month, indicating a more regular pattern of abuse.

According to research from NIDA nearly half (47%) of teens say they get prescription drugs for free from a friend or from medicine cabinets. These 2 facts show the value behind a diversion program for prescription drugs, we cut off the supply.

Let’s go back to Lake County for a moment and look at what’s happening there. I told you we collected roughly 8,300 pounds of unused and unneeded prescription drugs in 2013. There are some new studies being done in Utah that suggests that the percentage of schedule 1 narcotics (Oxycodone, Vicodin etc) in every 100 pounds of pharmaceuticals collected in these disposal boxes is about 8-12% of the total weight collected.

So while it’s a guesstimate, we removed around 830 pounds of highly dangerous scheduled narcotics from our communities. I unfortunately have no way of determining how many addictions and later potential initiations to heroin that this prevented but intuitively, removing that many pills, has to have a very positive effect on the problem.

In Lake County we are actively addressing this growing and concerning issue with some aggressive approaches.

Our States Attorney Mike Nerheim created and is leading an Opioid Task Force with high level representation from local government, police, hospitals, social service organizations, and the Lake County Health Department to get a handle on the problem, identify solutions and implement them.

The Task Force I am working with is working closely with State Senator Terry Link on SB 2928 which creates a Prescription Drug Disposal Pilot Program for Lake County to run a more organized and formal countywide disposal/diversion program. The potential for this program is enormous we could conceivably go from 15 disposal boxes in the county to 40 total disposal boxes. The resulting increase in diversion of prescription medication could and is likely to be huge.

The potential results of this program would go a long way towards reducing prescription drug abuse and ultimately would prevent a somewhat significant percentage of later initiations to Heroin abuse. This pilot program could and should be replicated in counties all across the state. It may dramatically reduce the supply of unused prescription drugs available for abuse.

We would strongly recommend that an organized funded statewide diversion effort be one of the recommendations that emerge in this Task Force’s final report.

Thank you very much for your time.