Even as we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, the ongoing opioid epidemic continues to get worse, studies show. Last year, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported a nearly 30% increase in overdose deaths since 2019.
Locally, one health system is now expanding its efforts to combat the crisis.
In the coming weeks, Cook County Health will install medication take-back bins in all pharmacies.
The bins are placed in visible areas near the waiting rooms of the pharmacies and will accept any medication when the pharmacies are open.
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John Busker, assistant director of pharmacy at Stroger Hospital, said each bin has three different locks built in to ensure maximum security.
"Even from our pharmacy side, there's no potential for diversion," said Busker. "There’s some tight regulations that the DEA has about how these boxes are to be installed, how they should work [and] how these boxes are to be picked up and taken to be destroyed."
The medication disposal bins are the newest tool being used by Cook County Health to combat the opioid crisis. The health system already offers "Safer Locks" for certain prescription medications.
Each lock has a combination that the pharmacist or patient can set.
"A lot of the abuse starts at home. It starts with people who take from their parents, from elderly relatives," said Busker. "What can we do as a pharmacy to help with the opioid crisis?"
The locks are offered to patients free of charge. Patients can keep the locks for other medications.
The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in Chicago applauded these efforts. Lauren Fish, director of services, said just because life is returning to normal for some doesn’t mean addictions and mental health disorders are going away.
"People are struggling even more now than ever," said Fish. "Anything we can do to help people is really important, but it does take buy-in and it does take recognition by others that these things are needed."