The state’s Drug Control Policy director says education is key to reversing a dramatic increase in prescription drug abuse in Iowa. Gary Kendell says there’s a perception that recreational use of prescription and over the counter medicines is “safer” than drugs like methamphetamine or heroin. “That’s our big challenge with alcohol as well,” Kendell said. “It’s a socially acceptable substance and we have a difficult time regulating it and convincing people it’s dangerous to use.”

Iowa treatment centers have also reported a dramatic increase in clients abusing prescription drugs – particularly painkillers like hydrocodone and oxycodone. The state has a voluntary Prescription Monitoring Program, but only 10 to 12 percent of the providers in the state are currently taking part in the program. Kendell would like to make participation in the program mandatory for doctors and pharmacists. He believes that would prevent people from stockpiling prescription drugs. “They’ll go to see multiple doctors and multiple pharmacies and they end up with many, many prescriptions for the same drug,” Kendell said. “That just provides an incredible supply onto the market for drug users with particular regard to prescription pain killers.”

By October of this year, investigations into stolen or misused medications in Iowa exceeded the entire number of cases in 2009. Kendell says prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing form of substance abuse in Iowa.