Heroin, prescriptions top Iowa drug abuse concerns

DES MOINES — Progress is being made in preventing drug abuse in Iowa, but state officials said Thursday they are concerned about rising incidents of heroin and prescription medicine misuse and deaths associated with them.

The annual drug control strategy report, issued Thursday by the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy, also indicates that the number of meth labs in Iowa is down but the amounts, potency and use of meth smuggled into Iowa are on the rise.

The 2015 Iowa Drug Control Strategy report to the governor and Legislature indicates significant progress in preventing drug abuse evidenced by a drop in drug-related Iowa prison admissions for a second straight year last year, steadily declining rates of underage drinking and tobacco use, nearly steady reports of illegal drug use by youth, and high rates of Iowa clients completing substance abuse treatment being employed and arrest free.

“Although Iowa remains one of the safest states in the U.S., in terms of having one of the nation’s lowest rates of illegal drug use, too many Iowa families are negatively impacted by drug use and crime,” said Iowa drug “czar” Steve Lukan, director of the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy.

“One of the fastest-growing areas of substance use disorders involves prescription drugs, which may also be driving an increase in heroin use,” he added, pointing to number indicating deaths due to heroin overdoses spiked to 20 in 2013 while 77 deaths were associated with overdoses of opioid, narcotics and prescription pain relievers.

Professionals who treat substance-use disorders increasingly report Iowans who begin taking pain pills for legitimate health problems become addicted to the medication over time, Lukan said, and eventually switch to heroin when they can no longer afford the medicine.

“Both pain medicine and heroin can be dangerous — even lethal — if abused, which is why preventing prescription drug abuse in the first place must be a priority,” he said. “One way to do this is through continuing education for health care professionals, parents and children.”

Medication Take Back events play a key role to help Iowans safely dispose of unused prescription drugs in a way that prevents abuse and protects the environment, Lukan said, noting a recent effort in collected over four tons of unused medicines and Iowans have safely discarded more than 25 tons of obsolete prescription drugs over the last four years.

According to the new report, meth labs reported by Iowa law enforcement are down in 2014 and on a pace to total 172 — which would be their lowest point in 17 years. However, the 64,000 grams of meth seized by Iowa law enforcement so far this year is the largest volume in nine years, dating back to 2005.

“The home-cooking is down; the order out is up,” said Dale Woolery, a spokesman in the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy.

Meth-related prison admissions totaled 475 last year, making up over half of all Iowa drug-related prison admissions. Meth treatment admissions last year comprised 14.8 percent of all publicly-funded treatment entries, an all-time high percentage involving meth.

Other challenges cited in the report stated that Iowa drug-related child abuse cases involving children testing positive for drugs and in the presence of meth manufacturing rose to 1,334 last year, the highest level in five years; Iowa marijuana-related hospital emergency department visits increased to an all-time high of 949 last year; and synthetic drugs — including those referred to as K2 and Bath Salts — continue to pose a health threat to Iowa users.

The report also noted that Iowa’s 20 drug enforcement task forces referred 300 drug-endangered children for protective services and removed 598 firearms from alleged drug dealers and gang members last year.

The 2015 Iowa Drug Control Strategy report that outlines a comprehensive plan involving prevention, treatment and enforcement efforts aimed at reducing illegal drug use and promoting healthy and safe communities can be found at the www.iowa.gov/odcp Web address.
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