The ease of access for people to get a prescription could be a reason why Rosecrance McHenry County is seeing more young adults, and some older adults, struggle with prescription medication use, Chris Gleason said.
Once addicted to prescription medications it’s easier for people to switch over to heroin because it gives the same high for a lower cost, said Gleason, director of Rosecrance McHenry County, a mental health and substance abuse treatment facility.
“More people are coming in addicted to opiates and heroin than ever before,” Gleason said.
To lessen the abuse of prescription drugs, locations in towns including McHenry, Woodstock and Crystal Lake have participated in the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, and hold permanent collection containers.
“It’s always a good idea to clean out the medicine cabinets,” Gleason said. “ ... You never know who’s going to go in your medicine cabinet, and it’s just that easy.”
Last fall, the Drug Enforcement Agency said it wouldn’t be able to have a take-back day anymore, Laura Crain said.
Crain, drug-free program coordinator with the McHenry County Substance Abuse Coalition, said it can be very pricey to run the take-backs and there are many regulations involved with destroying anything that is a controlled substance.
The DEA decided to continue with its latest take-back on Sept. 26, where 40,109 pounds of prescription drugs were collected in northern Illinois, said Dennis Wichern, special agent in charge at the DEA’s Chicago division.
“Right now, prescription drug overdoses kill more people in America, and have for the last five years, than car accidents,” Wichern said, adding it’s why the DEA has a huge focus on prescription drugs.
Wichern said there are suppliers who take the drugs for free, and the DEA usually can help local police departments with the cost of the collection boxes.
Making sure prescription drug collection boxes stay in McHenry County also is a priority for Crain and the coalition.
Crain said four take-back boxes were in the county last year, but now there are 13 boxes out for year-round collection.
McHenry County is generally in line with national statistics that show an increase of heroin use, Crain said, which has more than doubled for 18- to 25-year-olds in the past decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC’s website also said 45 percent of people who use heroin also are addicted to prescription opioid painkillers.
“It’s a national trend, we’re not out of line with the state, we’re not out of line with the nation, but I think it’s just going to continue to go up unless we start really addressing the concern that this is a direct tie,” Crain said of the link between prescriptions and heroin.
No matter the drug, Crain said it’s “the thought process that we’re putting pills in our body without knowing what they are,” that can cause problems.
Painkillers have always been there, Crain said, but not quite at the same levels of what can now be proven.
Having prescription drug take-back days is one way to address the problem, Crain said, but she also believes the community needs to be more honest about prescription medications and heroin.
“I think people still imagine a junkie by the garbage can, and they’re not,” Crain said. “You could be sitting next to one in your office. You could be sitting next to one anywhere.”
Part of the reason Wichern said they conduct the take-back program is to try to save a life.
In the first six months of 2015 in McHenry County, there were 24 opiate-related deaths, with 13 having heroin involved, according to statistics provided by McHenry County Coroner Anne Majewski.
The numbers were similar for 2014, with 23 opiate-related deaths, and 12 that involved heroin.
Numbers for the past five years stayed fairly consistent, except for 2011, where there were 18 opiate-related deaths, in nine of which heroin was involved.
Crain said many people think there is no hope once someone is addicted to heroin.
“I think a lot of people feel like once you’re in heroin you’re dead,” Crain said. “And we have so many good stories of people who have come through on the other side.”
Tons of take-back
Approximate pounds of prescription medications that McHenry County departments who participated in the Sept. 26 take-back day turned into the DEA between September and October, according to the DEA:
• Algonquin Police Department – 122
• Cary Police Department – 102
• Crystal Lake Police Department – 261
• Harvard Police Department – 54
• Huntley Police Department – 109
• Johnsburg Police Department – 660
• Lake In The Hills Police Department – 171
• Lakewood Police Department – 35
• Marengo Police Department – 117
• McHenry Police Department – 105
• McHenry County Sheriff’s Office, Wonder Lake Fire Protection District – 575 pounds
• Woodstock Police Department – 420