The annual strategy report from the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy (ODCP) shows Iowa continues to have one of the nation’s lowest rates of illegal drug use. The director of the office Steve Lukan says one of the growing concerns is the improper use of drugs that started out being legally prescribed.
“Unfortunately we have seen a significant rise in the number of Iowans who have overdosed as a result of prescription pain reliever and heroin abuse. So that will be an area of attention moving forward,” Lukan says. Lukan says those who treat substance abuse are finding more people who start using pain killers legitimately and than become addicted. Others are using them because they are readily available.
“The main things are first education, certainly I think a lot of Iowans don’t know that many young people actually start experimenting with prescription drugs that they find inside the home. Nationwide about 70-percent of actually take them from medicine cabinets of close friends and family,” Lukan says. “We think that is a big piece of this, educating Iowans to keep close tabs on those medications.”
He’d also like to see more use of the Prescription Monitoring Program. “It’s actually a tool for doctors and prescribers to look at. It’s a voluntary program that they can actually use to look at somebody’s prescription history and make sure that people are not seeing too many doctors or trying to abuse the system and trying to obtain prescription drugs illegally,” Lukan explains. “We think there are a lot of positives that could happen if more and more subscribers would check that and use it.” Less than one third of prescribers are registered with the program.
The increase is abuse of prescription drugs has also led to an increase in heroin use and deaths. Figures show 11 people died from an overdose of prescription pain relievers in 2003 and that number jumped to 77 in 2013. There was just one death from a heroin overdose reported in 2003 and 20 in 2013. “Often times as people perhaps are seeking bigger highs — the prescription pain relievers aren’t doing it for them any more — they may actually turn to something heavier and harder like heroin. The other thing that can also happen is the prescription pain relievers sometimes get too expensive and they look to heroin as a cheaper alternative,” Lukan says. He says most of the heroin in Iowa comes from the Chicago area.
Synthetic drugs caught the attention of his office in recent years too after deaths related to their use. “We’ve had some success I think in recent years, the DEA in particular has made some efforts nationwide as well as in Iowa, in actually shutting down retailers who’ve been selling these products. The Attorney General as well here in Iowa also a while back made a new focus on this area using existing consumer protection laws,” Lukan says.
Lukan says there are some good things to show for those who work to stop drug abuse. “We have fewer people going into prison because of drug issues, I think we have actually more people working as well once they leave drug treatment. And actually, the rates of underage drinking and tobacco use among our young have also declined. So, we thing those are all positive trends,” according to Lukan.
The 2015 Iowa Drug Control Strategy outlines a the ODCP’s plan for prevention, treatment and enforcement efforts aimed at reducing illegal drug use and promoting healthy and safe communities. You can see the report at: www.iowa.gov/odcp.