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Opioids and high rate of meth use pose on-going challenge to drug control in Iowa

Heroin is a favorite in Iowa
DES MOINES – Heroin and other illicit opioids are spreading across the State, fueled by prescription opioid misuse and addiction, even as the use of purer methamphetamine and more potent forms of marijuana remains strong, according to the 2017 Iowa Drug Control Strategy.  The recently released report includes data illustrating these developments, while noting continued progress on other fronts.

“Easier access to progressively more powerful forms of marijuana from states legalizing the addictive drug is contributing to negative impacts on an increasing number of Iowans,” said Lukan.  “According to national data, marijuana’s potency is growing exponentially, and as it rises so too do Iowa’s numbers of adolescents in substance use disorder treatment primarily due to marijuana, marijuana-related hospital emergency department visits, and drug-related traffic fatalities,” said Lukan.

New data in the State’s Drug Control Strategy show among Iowa juveniles in substance use disorder treatment in 2016, a record 76% cite marijuana as their primary drug of abuse.  Meanwhile, marijuana-related emergency department visits reported in Iowa in 2015 rose to an average of 166 per month, the most in recent history and four times more than ten years ago.  Also, the number of Iowa traffic fatalities reportedly involving drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol reached 56 in 2015, the highest level in a decade.  Traffic fatality drug types are not reported, but marijuana is the most used illicit drug in Iowa.

Other emerging drug threats and trends facing Iowans, and cited in the annual report include:

  • The share of all Iowans in treatment for substance use disorders citing meth or heroin as their primary drug of choice is the largest on record (17.6% and 2.5% respectively).
  • Drug and alcohol-related hospital emergency department visits are on pace to reach the highest point in over a decade.
  • 1,164 child abuse cases related to the presence of an illegal drug in a child’s body were reported in 2015, the 2nd highest number in the last 8 years.
  • More illicit opioid cases are being submitted to the State’s crime lab, with the prevalence of high-powered heroin and synthetic opioid mixtures growing quickly in the last couple of years (from 0 in 2014 to 17 in 2015 and 26 so far in 2016).
  • Iowans binge drink alcohol at a much higher rate than the national average (21.4% vs. 16%).

“Foreign meth and synthetic opioid makers who profit from the production and sale of addictive and illicit drugs are changing the poison they pedal at a swift pace, to attract customers and circumvent laws,” said Lukan.  “Tragically, this can—and does—result in unsuspecting Iowans being exposed to more harmful, and sometimes lethal, drugs.”

“Similar to the rapid onset of other synthetic drugs in recent years, Iowa communities have begun seeing non-pharmaceutical synthetic opioids, such as non-medical fentanyl analogs,” said Lukan.  “These synthetic opioids are several times more powerful than pharmaceutical fentanyl or morphine, and when taken alone or mixed with heroin, can be fatal to the user.”

Signs of progress in reducing substance abuse in Iowa, and cited in the report, include:

  • Iowa has the 2nd lowest rate of current illicit drug use in the U.S. (6.27% vs. a low of 5.82% in South Dakota, a high of 16.82% in Colorado and a national average of 9.77%).
  • The number of Iowa 11th graders who report drinking alcohol or smoking tobacco was reduced nearly in half over the last decade.
  • After steadily rising for 10 years to historic highs, Iowa opioid overdose deaths reported by medical examiners remained lower for the 2ndstraight year in 2015 (58 vs. 97 in 2013).
  • The opioid overdose rescue drug naloxone now can be purchased for use by anyone in a position to assist via a statewide standing prescription order authorized by a 2016 law.
  • Fifty one physicians across the State are approved Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) providers, able to prescribe medicine to treat Iowans addicted to opioids.
  • The number of prescription drug Take Back receptacles installed in communities for safe year-round disposal of leftover medicines has doubled since 2015 to more than 100.  Iowans dropped off over four tons of unused medicines during the recent one-day National Prescription Drug Take Back Day.
  • Meth labs reported in Iowa are on pace in 2016 to number fewer than 100, the lowest point in almost 19 years (vs. the high water mark of 1,500 in 1994).

“Resilient families and a strong work ethic are important in our state, and I think that’s reflected in many successful efforts to protect young Iowans from drug abuse,” said Lukan.  “There’s more critical work ahead, to keep up with ever-changing drug threats challenging new generations of Iowans.”

“Iowa’s Drug Control Strategy calls for a comprehensive approach involving substance abuse prevention and intervention, addiction treatment and recovery, and strong enforcement efforts to protect the public and connect those in need of help with local services,” said Lukan.

In addition to tracking trends and prioritizing responses, the 2017 Iowa Drug Control Strategy highlights effective tactics for reducing drug abuse in Iowa.  The report also identifies three goals as indicators of future progress: (1) Reduce the number of Iowans who die from prescription pain medication and heroin overdose; (2) Reduce the number of 11th graders who are current users of drugs and alcohol; and (3) Improve the number of Iowans who are employed post treatment.

The 2017 Drug Control Strategy was developed in coordination with Iowa’s Drug Policy Advisory Council and others.  The complete annual report is available here.

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