NOTE: Thanks to the News Sun for the original article.
As communities across America continue to be plagued by an opioid-addiction crisis, Lake County boasts “the largest and most successful” pharmaceutical collection program in Illinois, officials told U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin Thursday as he visited the Gurnee-based agency that manages the effort.
The Solid Waste Agency of Lake County (SWALCO) has collected and destroyed more than $1.2 million worth of controlled substances to date, the agency said. More than 20 law enforcement agencies deliver the drugs they have collected to SWALCO every few months for sorting, weighing and incineration, Durbin’s office said in a news release.
On the last drug disposal day in August, 10 departments dropped off more than 1,500 pounds of drugs, taking $113,000 in controlled substances off the street, according to the release.
The longtime Democratic senator called the SWALCO program an “extraordinary commitment to deal with this issue” and said “there’s nothing like this” elsewhere in Illinois. But he also said the pharmaceutical industry has to “be a part of the solution” as a new wave of heroin addiction has swept the country. Many people who become addicted to opioid painkillers such as hydrocodone and oxycodone turn to heroin because it is often cheaper and easier to find.
“They have flooded the market,” Durbin said of the pharmaceutical industry. “We’re asking pharma … to accept responsibility. And I don’t think that’s unreasonable.”
In June, Durbin introduced legislation that would strengthen the federal Drug Enforcement Agency’s authority to limit the number of addictive painkillers available in the United States every year, his office said in a news release. The bill would also have drug manufacturers “establish a national drug disposal program and help fund substance abuse treatment programs.”
Walter Willis, executive director at SWALCO, agreed that more programs like the one at his agency could be improved and established statewide if drug manufacturers helped fund them.
“They’re making money on the products,” Willis said. “But there’s a consequence on the back end that we think they should take responsibility for.”
He and William Gentes of the Lake County Underage Drinking and Drug Prevention Task Force said the number of overdose deaths in Lake County has gone down in the wake of the SWALCO program. While they couldn’t say for sure whether the program caused the reduction, they agreed it couldn’t have hurt.
In the last five years, SWALCO has increased its drug collections from law enforcement agencies sixfold, from about 2,000 pounds in 2011 to about 12,000 in 2015. Meanwhile, deaths from prescription drugs decreased from about 40 to 15 during that same period, according to numbers provided by Gentes. The establishment of the SWALCO building in Gurnee for drug collection allowed law enforcement agencies, many of which didn’t have the space to store and dispose of drugs before, to participate more fully in the collection effort.
“The moment we offered this space on a regular basis,” Gentes said, “the police departments were ready to go.”
Durbin wants to increase awareness surrounding opioid addiction, an issue that “touches all of us,” he said. He hopes more people begin to consider addiction a disease rather than a moral failing. He also urged parents to consider who has access to pain pills that may be in a medicine cabinet or a drawer. Nearly 60 percent of Americans have leftover narcotics in their homes, his office said, and an estimated seven of 10 prescription opioid abusers obtained pills from a family member or friend.
“It isn’t just a matter of standing up and saying, ‘Just say no,'” Durbin said.