DES MOINES — Iowa has made significant progress in reducing some forms of substance abuse, but homemade meth labs are making a comeback and problems associated with prescription painkillers and synthetic designer drugs are on the upswing, the state’s drug czar reported Wednesday.
“According to the latest state and national trends, alcohol and tobacco use by Iowa youth continues a decade-long decline, and Iowa has the lowest overall rate of illicit drug use in the nation,” said Mark Schouten, Iowa’s drug policy coordinator and director of the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy.
The state drug czar noted, however, that the 2012 Iowa drug control strategy that he submitted to Gov. Terry Branstad stresses the need to address the increasing abuse of prescription drugs and other emerging drugs more effectively.
Schouten pointed to state public health statistics that indicate drug overdose deaths from opioids, including the prescription painkillers hydrocodone and oxycodone, increased from three in 2000 to 40 in 2009.
“That’s certainly a concern,” said Dale Woolery, spokesman for the drug control policy office. “It seems to be growing in scope and size. I think what’s happening in Iowa in many ways mirrors what we’re hearing about nationally. Our numbers are relatively small compared with other states, but the increase, the trend, is not a good one.”
A task force of physicians, pharmacists, substance abuse providers, law enforcement and other professionals is expected to make recommendations on addressing prescription drug abuse in Iowa by year’s end.
Also, Schouten said data on the newer synthetic designer drugs legally banned in Iowa this past summer are not available, but anecdotal reports indicate synthetic cannabinoids, such as K2, and synthetic cathinones, such as bath salts, continue to be used by youth, with some users requiring hospital treatment.
“Complacency is not an option, because increasing numbers of potentially dangerous drugs — including diverted medicines and other unknown substances that may be perceived as safe — are now available to new generations of children who come of age and are tempted to try them,” Schouten said in a statement. “Parents play an important role, along with professionals, in teaching kids not to use any drug that hasn’t been given to them by a trusted parent, physician or pharmacist.”
Despite some effective efforts to curb clandestine labs producing methamphetamine in Iowa, Woolery said the labs are making a rebound because of new “one pot” and “shake-and-bake” methods that allow meth cookers to produce smaller batches of the illicit and highly addictive drug.
Also, meth use remains strong, Woolery said. The number of Iowans entering treatment primarily for meth use increased for the third straight year in 2011, coinciding with similar rebounds in reports of meth labs and meth-related prison admissions, he said. Meth labs also are on target to reach 343 for calendar year 2011, or nearly twice the recent annual low of 178 in 2007, but still almost 80 percent below the 1,500 recorded in 2004.
“The appetite for meth never went away,” said Woolery, who noted that most of the supply is imported into Iowa from Mexico and other states. “We’ve had some noticeable progress on that front, but it’s still a significant problem.”
On the plus side, Schouten said the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicated Iowa had the lowest rate — 4.1 percent — of illicit drug use in the nation in 2007-2008.
Also, the recently released Iowa Youth Survey results showed the rate of current alcohol use among 11th graders dropped to 32 percent in 2010, down 17 points from 1999. The same survey showed the rate of current tobacco use by 11th graders declined 16 points during that same period to 22 percent, he added, and the rate of current illicit drug use by Iowa youth decreased one point over the past decade, to 18 percent last year.
The survey found that 13 percent of Iowa high school juniors are current marijuana users and 7 percent said they had abused prescription drugs.
“Despite gains in some areas, underage and youth binge drinking in Iowa still rank above the national average, marijuana is the illicit drug most used by youth and medicine abuse is a rising concern,” Schouten said. “Preventing youth from abusing all forms of drugs must be a priority, because if we can keep our children drug-free that greatly reduces the odds they will ever engage in substance abusing behavior.”
According to the 2012 strategy, substance abuse treatment has improved over the past decade. Iowa’s 2010 Outcomes Monitoring System report says 57 percent of substance abuse treatment clients remained substance-free six months after treatment, a 14-point improvement in the rate of successful treatment outcomes compared to 2000.
The complete 2012 Iowa Drug Control Strategy is available on ODCP’s website at www.iowa.gov/odcp. Iowans needing additional information on substance abuse, or immediate assistance, can call the Iowa Substance Abuse Information Center 24/7 toll-free helpline at 866-242-4111.