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Iowa's attorney general pushes legislators to help reduce fentanyl-related deaths

Fentanyl-related deaths have spiked as the cheaply-produced drug is showing up more frequently in counterfeit pills.
Hal Gatewood
Getty Images
Fentanyl-related deaths have spiked as the cheaply-produced drug is showing up more frequently in counterfeit pills.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller and several law enforcement agencies are calling on lawmakers to take legislative action to reduce the number of fentanyl-related deaths.

At a press conference on Thursday, Miller said lawmakers should legalize the use of fentanyl test strips and expand access to naloxone, a drug that can reverse an opioid overdose, in order to combat the rapidly increasing rate of fentanyl-related deaths.

"There's no one thing that's going to solve this problem," he said. "But pieces of different solutions are going to really make a difference."

Fentanyl-related deaths have spiked across Iowa and the U.S. as more drugs, including counterfeit prescription pills, are being laced with the cheaply-produced substance, sometimes unknowingly to the user.

In 2021, 258 Iowans died from opioid-related overdoses, an increase of 21% from 2020, Miller said.

Fentanyl was involved in 83% of the opioid-related overdoses from last year, he said.

Miller said naloxone, also known under its brand name of Narcan, is only available through pharmacies in Iowa.

"We think that should be opened up to some nonprofits and other organizations, maybe government organizations as well, that can distribute naloxone ... to people, because this product can save people's lives,” he said.

Additionally, Miller proposed legalizing fentanyl test strips, which are considered drug paraphernalia under current law.

Story County Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald said fentanyl test strips detect the presence of the drug and can help save lives.

"They can, at that time, choose a different batch. They can use less of what they have. They can have the option to have others there when they use it or have Narcan available," he said,

Fitzgerald said Story County is part of the Central Iowa drug task force, which includes Boone and Greene counties as well.

The region has seen an increase in fentanyl-related cases in recent years, he said.

"We had a search warrant about four years ago, and one of our officers was exposed to fentanyl and went to the hospital," Fitzgerald said.

"We've had people in our booking, that when people were brought in, they've been exposed to fentanyl, and again requires a trip to the hospital. This is very serious stuff, and it doesn't take much at all."

Drug overdose deaths overall increased 16% in Iowa from February 2021 to February 2022 — double the national increase of 8%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On July 12, Gov. Kim Reynolds and other state officials held an event warning Iowans about the dangers of fentanyl-laced counterfeit pills, but did not mention any possible legislative action.

Natalie Krebs is IPR's Health Reporter