Death, loss and the spread of devastating illnesses. These are the hallmarks of our country’s overdose crisis. Compared to some of our Midwestern neighbors like Illinois and Ohio, Iowa has experienced relatively fewer of these tragic outcomes. Our luck may be about to run out.
Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reviewed information submitted by the Iowa Department of Public Health and found that Iowa is “experiencing significant increases in hepatitis infections among people who inject drugs (PWID) and may be at risk for an HIV or hepatitis C outbreak related to injection drug use.”
In plain language, we are ripe for an outbreak of one of these terrible diseases. That outbreak, when it hits, will bring with it tremendous human and economic costs. Some may remember Austin, Ind., a Midwest town of about 4,000 people which, in less than a year, had 200 of its citizens contract HIV due to unsafe injection drug use. Countless lives were impacted and the cost to the state totaled nearly $60 million.
The good news, there’s a time-tested and proven way to help protect Iowa and Iowans from a similar catastrophe: legalizing syringe exchange programs. It may sound radical, but it’s not. The CDC recommended Iowa do exactly that, following the lead of 34 other states (red and blue, urban and rural) where it is legal.
A public health crisis is coming for Iowa, syringe exchange is our best chance to stop it in its tracks.