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State will use opioid lawsuit settlement funds to launch a new addiction treatment program

Addiction to opioids and heroin is a major public health problem, but so is alcohol abuse.
Toby Talbot
Addiction to opioids and heroin is a major public health problem, but so is alcohol abuse.

The state Attorney General's office is partnering with the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics to launch a new program to combat opioid addiction.

The $3.8 million comprehensive treatment program will be funded using Iowa's settlement with McKinsey & Co., a large consulting firm that the state alleged in its lawsuit contributed to the opioid crisis by helping to promote opioids like oxycodone.

Under the program UIHC specialists will train practitioners across the state so they can obtain a waiver to use medication to treat opioid addiction.

Alison Lynch, who directs the opioid addiction clinic at UIHC, said medication greatly reduces the risk of death.

"When they're taking buprenorphine, they don't have to worry about going into withdrawal," she said. "So really ... they feel better and it reduces the amount of time and effort and energy that has been required when they have an addiction that is not controlled."

Lynch said people who use opioids and are not receiving medication treatment are six to seven times more likely to die as compared to the general public. But when they're treated with drugs like buprenorphine or methadone, that risk goes down to one-and-a-half times more likely.

She said the program will work on training a variety of medical professionals such as doctors, nurse practitioners and physician's assistants across the state.

"People need easier access to these medications, particularly in easier access to buprenorphine because it is so easy to incorporate into many aspects of clinical care," she said.

Lynch said the program is also going to work with county jails on treatment options, as research shows many opioid users have contact with the criminal justice system.

"We're going to help increase the capacity of jails to get people who have opioid use disorder started on a path to recovery through medication treatment," she said.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, who is leading Iowa's lawsuits against a variety of businesses involved with the opioid epidemic, said it's important the program reaches across all of Iowa.

"We're very conscious of having a set of programs that cover the whole state. It doesn't emphasize one part of the state over another," he said.

The number of opioid-related deaths in Iowa has increased significantly during the pandemic.

Last year, there were 213 opioid-related deaths in Iowa, a nearly 36 percent increase from 2019.

Natalie Krebs is IPR's Health Reporter