The Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy has released its strategy for addressing issues in the next year.
Director Dale Woolery says there are problems, but the state is in better shape than many others. “In terms of progress in relative terms for context — we have a situation where we are maintaining relatively low rates of illicit drug use in the state of Iowa. And that includes overdose deaths. But that’s in relative terms,” Woolery says.
Federal studies show Iowa ranks 6th lowest in the nation in the rate of total illicit drug use, and fifth lowest for drug overdose deaths. “On the other side of the coin, the challenges include relatively high rates of use of things like alcohol and nicotine — which are not new — methamphetamine use as well,” according to Woolery. “But we are also seeing an increase in substance-related deaths to include alcohol-related deaths, and drug overdose deaths. Both reaching all-time highs in the year 2020.”
Alcohol-related deaths rose 26 percent to a record 836. He says there are a lot or things contributing to the increase in alcohol and drug overdose deaths. “I guess we have a variety of factors in play. We have the potency of substances, psychoactive substances, that are increasing in many areas. We have more poly substance or poly drug combinations that are contributing to that whole potency thing and unsuspecting Iowans using in some cases,” he says.
Woolery says the COVID pandemic also had a major impact. “The comparison I think of is that the pandemic is to behavioral health kind of what an accelerant would be to fire. So, it’s kind of thrown gas on a fire and it’s exacerbated or created a tipping point if you will for I think a lot of Iowans who may have already engaged in heavy drinking or risky drug use,” Woolery says.
He says the problem was made even worse during the pandemic as the service providers who address the issues were shut down.
“The pandemic has really affected those in the greatest need of help by putting help out of reach,” he says.
Woolery says all these things ended up being a deadly combination for some people. “In many cases, you had people in isolation who needed company. You know, they needed companionship and someone to keep an eye on them and to help and to intervene,” Woolery says. “And it’s also interrupted some of the drug supplies in the case of illicit drugs — so that you wind up with people addicted to certain substances using other substances — and again doing so in isolation.”
Woolery says their plan for the next year is to use a comprehensive range of substance abuse prevention, substance use disorder treatment, and drug enforcement responses.