Health

Iowa's opioid problem improving

But meth activity worsens, report shows

OxyContin, in 80 mg pills, in a 2013 file image. (Liz O. Baylen/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
OxyContin, in 80 mg pills, in a 2013 file image. (Liz O. Baylen/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

DES MOINES — The good news: Iowa’s opioid problem is declining. The bad news: methamphetamine activity seems to be surging.

Those were among the findings in the 2019 Iowa Drug Control Strategy issued Thursday by Dale Woolery, interim director of the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy. The report includes actions being taken to strengthen Iowa’s response to changing needs, he said.

According to the drug control agency, there have been encouraging developments recently that point to a possible shift in the opioid epidemic — most notably a decrease of 9.7 percent in the number of controlled prescription drugs last year compared with 2016.

Also, preliminary data indicate opioid-related overdose deaths in Iowa for the first eight months of this year are down 35 percent compared with the same period a year ago. Still, Iowa’s crime lab reports illicit opioid case submissions by law enforcement are on pace to exceed 500 — a level eight times that of 2010.

“Early indications signal a possible slowing of opioid overdose deaths in Iowa, as fewer opioid pain relievers are prescribed and more safeguards against opioid misuse are put into place,” Woolery said in a statement. “However, reports of more potent illicit synthetic opioids and increasing meth activity remind us our strategy must be comprehensive, long-term and responsive to evolving challenges.

“Enhancements to opioid prescribing and monitoring, increased access to the opioid overdose rescue medicine naloxone and medication assisted treatment, more prescription drug Take Back options, and many other community initiatives are making a difference,” he added. “Sweeping opioid legislation enacted earlier this year and newly announced federal grants to bolster heroin and meth enforcement efforts in Iowa will help too.”

 

According to the report, use of naloxone by Iowa emergency medical responders to reverse opioid overdoses rose to a record high 754 doses in 2017, the number of Medication Assisted Treatment providers tripled in three years to 107 in 2018, and permanent prescription drug Take Back sites increased more than fivefold in two years to 233 in 2018.

Among the report’s findings was information that Iowa has the nation’s lowest overall rate of illicit drug use at 6.76 percent and indications that youth substance abuse in Iowa has generally been trending lower over the last few years.

But, also, more than 10,000 Iowans were treated for meth use disorders in 2018, which state officials noted was an all-time high.

Meth labs reported in Iowa this year are on pace to reach their lowest point in 23 years, averaging about two per month with 19 through October, the report said.

However, the amount of meth seized by law enforcement and submitted to the Iowa crime lab in 2018 exceeds each of the previous six years (198,735 grams through September). And meth purity remains at an all-time high of 97 percent and more adult Iowans entering substance use disorder treatment last year cited meth as their primary drug, topping marijuana slightly.

 

Also, psychostimulant-related deaths in Iowa, primarily involving meth, increased to 96 in 2017 — the highest point of the most recent five years of record keeping, according to the yearly strategy report.

Marijuana remains one of the most commonly used illicit drugs in Iowa, accounting for 25.6 percent of all substance use disorder treatment admissions last year.

Iowans’ consumption of alcohol continues to increase and binge drinking remains above the national average. But the number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities (91) and the proportion of Iowans entering substance use disorder treatment citing alcohol as their primary substance dropped a little last year, according to the report.

“Many of today’s drugs are not what they used to be, and that means unsuspecting users may be at greater risk,” said Woolery. “Be it alcohol, nicotine products, marijuana, opioids or meth, some of today’s substances prone to abuse are now available in new formulations, alternative delivery systems and more potent concentrations.”

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The 2019 Iowa Drug Control Strategy was developed in cooperation with Iowa’s Drug Policy Advisory Council and others. The report is at odcp.iowa.gov.

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