Illinois Is the First State to Put Locks on Prescription Painkillers

By Zachary Siegel 09/01/15

A new pilot program is being implemented to prevent painkiller abuse. Is it a step in the right direction?

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Last week in Illinois, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed off on the Heroin Crisis Act, which aims to curb the opiate problem plaguing the state. The bill also recognizes prescription drug abuse as part of the current crisis. 

Within the bill is a novel pilot program that entails putting a numerical locking mechanism—similar to those used in gym lockers—on take-home prescription painkillers such as hydrocodone, branded under Vicodin or Norco, to prevent abuse. Illinois will be the first state in the country to test the preventative idea.

Gov. Rauner signed the measure into law this week, which will take effect in 2016.

State Sen. Iris Martinez, a Chicago Democrat who co-sponsored the bill said, "Too many Illinoisans become addicted to these powerful medications. This legislation will help prevent individuals who haven't obtained a written prescription from using hydrocodone, a dangerous drug when used without a doctor's supervision."

Nick Gore, a former drug user, spoke with lawmakers in Springfield earlier this year offering his support for the devices. Gore believes it is a right step in preventing abuse, especially for young people who may sneak into their parents’ medicine cabinet.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), four out of five heroin users first experimented with prescription painkillers. This device aims to prevent those first recreational doses that may eventually turn into a bona fide opiate addiction.

"I'm pretty hopeful today for the youth who may not get mixed up in this awful disease," Gore said. "It's a bold move made by Illinois to set the tone for the rest of the country to follow."

Along with participating pharmacies, the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation will be in charge of implementing the pilot program.

Though the device aims to prevent abuse, anyone familiar with the ambitions of drug users must be reminded of the old adage: Determination may overcome any obstacle.

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.