Save A Star drug box

The Save A Star Drug Awareness Foundation provides boxes to municipalities for free collection of unused prescription drugs. (Save A Star Drug Awareness Foundation, Handout)

Misuse of prescription drugs can lead to heroin abuse, Village of Grayslake Chief of Police Phillip Perlini recently learned.

That's one reason he suggested the village start a prescription drug collection program. Since June 25, residents have been able to place unwanted prescription pills in a sealed box at the police station.

When the box is filled, the police will weigh it and then hand the drugs over to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to destroy them by incineration, Perlini said. Residents already have started using the collection box, he said.

"This seems to be one of the easiest and first steps to take. Leftover prescription drugs are being abused – people get hooked on these pills and then they turn to heroin, which is cheap and easy to get."

It's easy for parents to lose track of unused drugs, forget where they've left them and not know if they've been taken by their children or guests in their home, he added.

Perlini said his research has shown that students in Grayslake schools don't have a problem with heroin abuse. But he added, "There's no community that doesn't have a problem with heroin."

Perlini joined the Lake County Opioid Abuse Task Force several months ago. He also learned about Save A Star Drug Awareness Foundation in Highland Park that provides free prescription pill collection boxes to towns.

About the same time, two Prairie Crossing Charter School students, William Moran and Danny Encinas, were working on a similar project, he said. "They gave us a presentation on what they were doing in their school – they did research on the Save A Star Foundation and programs in other towns. We worked with them to get the box."

At one time, hospitals and local drug stores accepted unused prescription drugs, but no longer, Perlini said.

Grayslake is one of 16 Lake County towns including Lake Forest, Lake Bluff, Mundelein, Libertyville, Vernon Hills, Lake Zurich and Deerfield that provide Save A Star Drug Awareness Foundation pill and other prescription drugs collection boxes for residents, said David Katz, who founded the organization with his wife, Gail.

"After our son (Daniel Lee Katz) died of a drug overdose, in 2007, my wife and I made a vow to dedicate our lives to drug awareness," said the Highland Park resident.

Katz doesn't have accurate numbers of drugs collected for the participating Lake County towns combined. But he said, "In three years, we collected 14,000 pounds of prescription drugs in Highland Park alone."

Katz's wife speaks at grade schools all over the Midwest and the couple gets calls from parents all over the country asking for help and information, he said.

Fundraising events and grants enable them to provide the collection boxes. The foundation is also working with the DEA Educational Foundation to secure a grant to create a traveling exhibit, "The RX Factor."

As with many towns nationwide, Grayslake also participates in a DEA bi-annual drug collection program, Perlini said. "No questions asked. You dump it and they get rid of it," he said.

Katz said in one four-hour period during a recent DEA drug collection, the nation discarded 200,000 tons of prescription drugs.

These programs also keep prescription drugs out of the waste stream and sewer system, said Grayslake Mayor Rhett Taylor.

"There's not a convenient place to dispose of these; it's not ideal to have them go into the trash or down the sewers," he said, referring to potential pollution problems.

"This program is not costing the village any money, said Perlini. "It just costs a little bit of staff time. It's well worth the benefits."

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