New Drug Report Highlights Iowa’s Lingering Meth Problem

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IOWA  --  New information has just been released in the state's fight against illegal drug use, and some of the statistics may seem surprising.

The 2018 Iowa Drug Control Strategy used information from 2016. Positive statistics include the fact that Iowa has the second lowest rate of illegal drug use in the country at 6.27%.  However, the report also lists that along with the nationwide opioid epidemic, the state is dealing with record levels of methamphetamine abuse.

“We've done a really good job trying to eradicate meth labs, but really powerful, pure meth is being trafficked into the state through cartels,” said Steve Lukan, Director of the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy.

Iowa's crackdown on home-grown meth labs and the ingredients meth cooks need has been a resounding success. The state is on pace for less than 50 lab reports in 2017, compared to 1,500 in 2004.

However, almost 20% of those in addiction rehab report meth as their drug of choice--the most ever. Out-of-country drug trafficking is to blame.

“They've been able to drive the cost down of the production, which makes it cheaper to sell on the streets.  Not only is it much more powerful than it used to be when it was potentially made here in a lab here in the state, but it's much more pure, much more powerful, therefore it's also much more addictive,” said Lukan.

That doesn't mean the focus has shifted off of the opioid epidemic; in fact, it's far from it. According to the report in 2016, opioid-related overdose deaths rose to an all-time high of 180. The state responded by making the overdose reversal drug Narcan more readily available and having more doctors approved to prescribe medication-assisted treatment to those already addicted. However, Lukan says there’s still more to do, like improving the prescription drug monitoring program for doctors.

“They can go in and see what type of pills I've been getting and if I've been out doctor shopping, or maybe they say, 'Jeez, you've been on this pain killer quite a long time, Steve, we maybe need to have a talk about this.' But we do hear from doctors that it's not as user-friendly as it should be,” said Lukan.

Meanwhile, on the prevention front, alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and prescription abuse in 11th graders all went down over the last 11 years.  Teachers say that’s thanks to a change in education.

“Instead of just saying, 'say no to drugs, don't do drugs, they're bad, shame on you,' now they're taking an approach that students do the research. Any time the student can make their own determination, they can find their own choice, they can make their own call, then it's going to stick with them,” said Connie Sievers, Des Moines Public Schools Curriculum Coordinator.

Lukan also says this legislative session will have a big focus on opioids. His office is putting together a bill package that will be introduced when the legislature reconvenes.