CEDAR RAPIDS — The U.S. Drug Czar praised efforts made in Iowa to address the methamphetamine crisis, claiming the best way to curb its impact nationwide is to offer federal support of local efforts, he said during a visit to Cedar Rapids Thursday.
Jim Carroll, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy in the White House, participated in discussions on the issue in Cedar Rapids Thursday, including a meeting with law enforcement at the Cedar Rapids Police Department as well as a roundtable with providers at the Area Substance Abuse Council.
“It’s important to come to Iowa to see the problems here,” Carroll said to reporters. “Problems in Iowa are unique, they’re different from any other part of the country.
“What we know here in Iowa is a dramatic rise in the use of methamphetamine in Iowa. We have to tackle that issue.”
In both events with the White House official, local law enforcement and substance use treatment providers agreed the effort to address the evolving issue of meth use in Iowa needed to focus on prevention, intervention and treatment.
“We’re not going to arrest our way out of this problem, absolutely,” Carroll said during the morning roundtable. “But we’re not going to treat our way out of this problem, either.”
According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, meth is the third most common drug used in treatment in Iowa, behind alcohol and marijuana.
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The state has seen a spike in use in recent years, with more Iowans being admitted for treatment of meth addiction in 2018 than any year before, according to the state public health department.
In Linn County, 667 people were admitted for meth treatment. In 2015, there were 575 treatment admissions.
The Cedar Rapids Police Department made 176 arrests in 2018 for possession of meth — more than three times the number of arrests made four years ago.
Stephan Bayens, commissioner for the Iowa Department of Public Safety, said the problem in Iowa has become “a three-headed monster,” referencing purity, poundage and price. Not only is the meth created nowadays more pure, but it’s also easier to obtain larger amounts at a lower price.
The source of the drug has shifted in recent years. The number of meth labs that traditionally provided the supply a decade ago has significantly dropped, falling from 1,500 in 2004 to 26 in 2018, according to the Iowa Department of Public Safety.
The number of labs manufacturing meth in Cedar Rapids has fallen from 29 in 2014 to just one in 2018, according to the police department.
In the roundtable at the Cedar Rapids Police Department, Gov. Kim Reynolds spoke about the need for flexibility in federal grants sent to local agencies to address meth addiction.
Director of the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy Dale Woolery also emphasized the need for medication-assisted treatment for those working to overcome a meth addiction and help disrupting the supply chain coming from outside of the country.
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The majority of meth in Iowa is imported into the United States from Mexico, a fact Carroll pointed to as the reason to enforcing stricter border policies. He expressed support for President Donald Trump’s proposal to build a border wall, but also said the effort needs to be focused internationally as the chemicals to create meth are typically shipped to Mexico from China and India.
Meth that’s smuggled in from Mexico is much purer than the substance created by homegrown labs, according to the Iowa Department of Public Safety. In 2008, the purity of meth tested by state enforcement was an average 35 percent. In 2018, it was 97 percent pure.
The discussion later in the day at the Area Substance Abuse Council also hosted Sen. Chuck Grassley, and focused on the challenges providers face in treating individuals overcoming substance use disorder.
A main barrier they identified was the struggle some providers face in getting reimbursement for services from insurance companies, particularly from the managed-care organizations that handle Iowa’s Medicaid program.
Providers also asked for a greater push from the federal government for telemedicine services.
“From the standpoint of telemedicine ... any place you want to use a professional by two-way telecommunications, I think this is something we need to deal with,” Grassley told reporters. “Some of the professionals aren’t being paid, and obviously people use those professional services, so they should be paid.”
Law enforcement officials also discussed the challenges between the need for prosecution and the need for treatment.
Marion County Sheriff Jason Sandholdt said law enforcement is working on being tough on dealers and traffickers, who pose a public safety risk and compound the issue. However, officers also recognize people dealing with substance use disorders should have access to treatment — which jails can’t always provide, he said.
“There’s always a hard balance between the person that is truly addicted and has a substance abuse addiction versus the deal side of it,” Sandholdt said. “And a lot of times those get blended because they do both.”
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