Iowa isn't immune to America's opioid crisis.
A new report by the University of Iowa shares troubling numbers about the extent to which this state faces a problem of opioid abuse. A class of drugs, opioids include legal pain relievers available by prescription and the illegal drug heroin.
"Opioid pain relievers are generally safe when taken for a short time and as prescribed by a doctor, but because they produce euphoria in addition to pain relief, they can be misused (taken in a different way or in a larger quantity than prescribed, or taken without a doctor's prescription). Regular use — even as prescribed by a doctor — can lead to dependence and, when misused, opioid pain relievers can lead to overdose incidents and deaths," according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
According to the UI report, which was compiled through a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to UI's Injury Prevention Research Center, shows:
- Prescription opioid overdose deaths have quadrupled in Iowa since 1999.
- Heroin deaths have increased more than ninefold in the past 15 years, three times higher than the national average.
"While the rates of prescription opioid overdose deaths are lower in Iowa than in many states, these are disturbing and tragic trends that mirror the national prescription opioid epidemic," said Carri Casteel, associate professor of occupational and environmental health in the UI College of Public Health and report co-author.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse:
- 90 Americans die after overdosing on opioids every day.
- Roughly 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them.
- An estimated 4 to 6 percent of those who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin.
- About 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids.
"The misuse of and addiction to opioids — including prescription pain relievers, heroin and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl — is a serious national crisis that affects public health as well as social and economic welfare," according to the Institute. "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the total 'economic burden' of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of health care, lost productivity, addiction treatment and criminal justice involvement."
Later this month, the UI report will be discussed with an interim legislative study committee charged with evaluating Iowa's response to the nation's opioid crisis. The committee will make recommendations to Gov. Kim Reynolds and the Legislature by Nov. 15.
We give credit both to the U of I for its eye-opening report and to state government for its examination of ways Iowa should respond to this problem. We look forward with interest to hearing what the legislative study committee proposes.
Opioid abuse isn't the only drug problem in Iowa, of course. For example, the Omaha World-Herald on Sunday reported on a resurgence of the methamphetamine scourge in Nebraska and Iowa.
In 2005, Iowa reclassified pseudoephedrine — the key ingredient in making meth — a Schedule V controlled substance available only in pharmacies and placed limits on how much product containing the substance could be purchased within a 30-day period without a prescription.
Combined with the 2010 establishment of an electronic system through which all pharmacies in the state can track the purchase of pseudoephedrine and prevent individuals from amassing more than the legal limit by making purchases at multiple locations, the 2005 law helped Iowa make significant progress in the meth war. In fact, the number of meth labs in the state by 2012 (382) was down about 75 percent from what it was in the year before the 2005 law was passed.
"The decline in use that followed the demise of home labs was short-lived, though," the World-Herald reported. "International drug cartels soon stepped in to fill the gap in production, pumping high volumes of highly potent meth into Nebraska and other states from large-scale laboratories in Mexico. As a result, law enforcement officials throughout the Midwest continue to rank meth as the top drug threat to the region, according to a survey by the Midwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area."
Clearly, as Iowa keeps one eye on the relatively new opioid drug problem, it's essential to keep another one on the old drug nemesis of meth.