CHICAGO -- Chicago is at the center of a national crisis. The city has the highest number of emergency room visits for opioid overdoses and Cook County ranks first in the nation for those arrested testing positive for opiates.
Last year in Illinois, opioid overdoses killed more people than all gun related deaths combined.
Experts believe a big part of the solution is getting rid of bad medicine.
There is a secret facility in Chicago that houses boxes of unused prescription drugs that the sheriff’s office has collected.
“I would imagine that 99 percent of the people that work in my own office don’t even know exists,” Sheriff Tom Dart said.
The response to the opioid crisis had focused on heroin, fentanyl and illegal drugs. Law enforcement’s strategy was to cut off the source through arrests and seizures of illegal drugs.
“The part that was being so horribly missed up until recently is the prescription drugs that are legally being prescribed to people,” Sheriff Dart said.
Government data shows that roughly 70 percent of abused prescription drugs come from family and friends.
Forty percent of all opioid drug overdoses come from prescription drugs.
“Prescription drugs are fueling this as much as anything,” Sheriff Dart said.
Sheriff Dart is leading an effort in the county to get people to dispose of their old prescription drugs properly.
“These opioids have been prescribed to you? You’ve got to dispose of them if you don’t need them because one of your teenagers, one of your cousins is going to access them.”
Over the weekend the drug enforcement administration held a “Drug Take Back Day” allowing people to drop off old prescription pills.
Across the county there are 80 mailbox-style drop off locations open every day.
“They worry about their name being on here and so what we do is we dump the pills out in one location and we take the pill containers and then we shred these, so there`s no worry about someone getting your name,” Sheriff Dart said.
Monday pallets of pills were loaded onto a truck and brought to another undisclosed secure facility run by the DEA.
Special Agent in Charge Brian McKnight says close to 80 area police departments dropped off boxes of drugs today. They’ll be sent out of state and incinerated.
“We’re in the middle of the worst opioid epidemic the country has ever seen,” Agent McKnight said.
Everyday more than 115 Americans die of an opioid overdose, which is now the leading cause of death for those under the age of 50
Agent McKnight’s message to the public is if you’ve got old pills, let the DEA “take your medicine.” It may just help cure the opioid crisis.
As of late Monday afternoon, the DEA had collected 17,500 pounds of prescription drugs to be sent to an out of state facility where they will be burned. That's really the only proper way to dispose of them. Authorities emphasized not to flush pills because they can be toxic to the water supply.