The Iowa Department of Public Health reports preliminary data shows the number of deaths involving opioids fell from 137 to 89 in the first eight months of this year compared to the same time period last year.
The director of the department’s Opioid Initiatives, Kevin Gabbert, says several factors are involved in the drop. “Expanded access to Naloxone — which is the opioid reversal drug — and it’s also been things like expansion of medication assisted treatment. We’ve had great legislative support in creating new legislation to address the issue. We’ve had expanded use of the Prescription Monitoring Program,” Gabbert says.
While the opioid-related deaths have dropped, Gabbert says it is only a start on addressing the problem. “It’s difficult for us to hang our hat on that fact that we are down to 89 — because 89 is still too many. One is too many,” according to Gabbert. “And when you think about the family member of friends who have been affected by an opioid overdose — to tell them that things are better, I really don’t think provides enough support.”
The second National Drug Take Back day was Saturday, as Iowans turned in thousands of unneeded prescription drugs. Gabbert says that is another effort that can help cut opioid deaths. “Where we’re seeing the most significant increase in the number of overdoses is among the elicit substances. So things like fentanyl, carfentanil,” Gabbert explains. “What we know is that four out of five individuals who first used heroin started with a prescription painkiller. The problem is, the majority of those individuals that prescription painkiller wasn’t one that was prescribed to them. That means it was a surplus of somebody else’s supply that was made available to them.”
The number of opioid-related deaths started climbing in 2000 when there were 23, and rose steadily to a high of 206 in 2017. Gabbert says state, local and federal officials have worked together on the various programs to address the rise. He says those efforts are still continuing.
Gabbert points out that last week President Trump signed the “Support for Patients and Communities Act,” which he says further expands efforts for treatment, recovery and prevention and fighting fentanyl. He says this is preliminary data and all the numbers aren’t finalized until four to six months after the year ends. That means the effort is far from done. “We have a lot of work still to do,” Gabbert says.
Gabbert says there’s lots of help available. “If you or someone you care about is misusing opioids or any substances — they can get help at YourLifeIowa.org. There’s a variety of resources available there in addition to live individuals that they can talk with about their issues and also receive referral information for treatment services.”
To learn more about the efforts to combat opioid abuse, go to the IDPH website.