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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Iowa Leads Project to Address Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic in the State

A new report from the University of Iowa includes several policy and program recommendations to address the state’s opioid crisis after a review process involving dozens of stakeholders from across the state.

Dr. Carri Casteel, associate professor of occupational and environmental health in the University of Iowa College of Public Health and report co-author, says the epidemic is affecting all Iowans, whether they live in rural or urban counties. She points to data that show more than 700,000 opioid prescription pain relievers (OPRs) were dispensed by pharmacists to new OPR users between 2003 and 2014.

Meanwhile, heroin deaths have increased more than ninefold in Iowa in the past 15 years, three times higher than the national average. In addition, prescription opioid overdose deaths in Iowa have quadrupled since 1999.

“While the rates of prescription opioid overdose deaths are lower in Iowa than in many states, these are disturbing and tragic trends that mirror the national prescription opioid epidemic,” says Dr. Casteel.

The report was compiled with a grant from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to the university’s Injury Prevention Research Center (IPRC), one of four injury research centers in the country to participate in the grant. The centers gathered hundreds of opioid experts in their states to recommend methods for preventing prescription opioid misuse, overdose, and overdose deaths.

In Iowa, the IPRC convened 33 stakeholders in Des Moines in April to identify public policy and program priorities for addressing the opioid epidemic in the state. The group included representatives from law enforcement, substance abuse treatment, medicine, psychiatry, nursing, public health, nonprofit/advocacy, poison control, insurance, state and local drug-control policy, and pharmacy, as well as elected officials or their representatives. Their top five priorities include:

The committee will discuss the report with the interim study committee tasked with evaluating Iowa’s response to the opioid epidemic on Monday, October 16. The committee wants input from various relevant agencies and entities and plans to submit a report with its findings and recommendations to Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds and the general assembly by November 15, in time for possible action during the next legislative session.

The report also highlights successful initiatives in communities across Iowa. For instance, the Eastern Iowa Heroin Initiative has placed prescription drug drop boxes in nearly every county and trains law enforcement agencies around the state on methods for successful investigation of heroin overdoses. The report also features the Alliance of Coalitions for Change and Iowa Pharmacy Association, which organizes community discussions around the state targeting physicians, pharmacists, dentists, nurses, chiropractors, social workers and representatives from treatment programs to discuss opioid trends and look for collaborative ways to address the issue.

Full report