Iowa has received a federal grant of nearly $18 million to address deaths from opioids and methamphetamine.

The Opioid Initiatives Director at the state health department, Kevin Gabbert, says opioid deaths are still a concern here. “We did see a decline in 2018, however in 2019, those numbers have increased again. And for 2020 — it looks like those numbers are going to pass what we had in 2019,” Gabbert says.

The number of opioid deaths in Iowa increased from 137 in 2018 to 157 in 2019. Gabbert says they have a variety of ways to address the issue. “We are going to be adding a prevention staff person in every one of our 19 service areas across the state. Our service areas represent all 99 counties,” Gabbert says. “We will continue to fund medication-assisted treatment services for individuals. In addition, we’re going to be providing recovery support services — things like transportation, dental services, housing.”

Methamphetamines are what’s know as psychostimulants, and Gabbert says they continue to remain a problem.
“For the first time, psychostimulant-related deaths have passed opioid-related deaths. It’s Not by much, but none the less it has passed it,” Gabbert says. “And when you start to look at the number of individuals who have experienced an overdose death and had both psychostimulants and opioids in their system — that number has quadrupled in the last decade.”

Gabbert says the coronavirus pandemic has had some impact on the use of these drugs. “We don’t know the full impact as of this time — but some of the things that we know are issues in regards to COVID-19 are things like isolation. There could be many reasons for this, we’ve got many people who are practicing social distancing,” Gabbert says.

He says there is one key health link they do know about between the use of these drugs and COVID-19. “COVID-19 can have a significant impact on an individual’s normal ability to breathe. For those individuals who experience an opioid overdose, respiratory depression is the primary cause of death,” according to Gabbert. “So if you have an individual who has COVID-19 and uses opioids — there’s a possibility that the two issues combined could cause an increased risk of experiencing a respiratory issue.”

Gabbert says the two-year grant is from the federal department of Health and Human Services.