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Iowa Sees Decrease In Opioid-Related Deaths

Courtesy of The National Institute on Drug Abuse
Opioid-related deaths decreased by 33 percent in 2018, marking a five year low, according to the Iowa Department of Health Statistics.

Last year, opioid-related deaths in Iowa decreased by 33 percent, marking a five year low for the state, according to statistics released this month from the state's Department of Health Statistics.

Iowa had 137 opioid-related deaths in 2018, 206 deaths in 2017, 180 deaths in 2016, 163 deaths in 2015 and 168 deaths in 2014.

Kevin Gabbert, the opioid initiatives director at the Department of Public Health, said reasons include the use of a prescription drug monitoring program and an increase in the overdose reversal drug, Narcan.

"There's been expanded availability through efforts here at public health, through efforts at various communities, through efforts of other grant projects that are available in the state," he said. "So we feel that's really playing a role in the lower number of overdose deaths."

Gabbert said the state has also increased addition treatment programs.

"It's not enough for us to reverse an overdose if we don't have opportunities for these individuals to make improvements in their lives," Gabbert said, "and that's where medication-assisted treatment or treatment in general comes into play providing them with another opportunity or a healthier opportunity that they didn't have before."

Gabbert said Iowa, which has one of the lowest rates of opioid-related deaths in the country, said many of the state has focused on prevention efforts.

"The concern that we have though is that we want to make sure we can do whatever we can to deter Iowa from becoming the next Vermont or West Virginia or Massachusetts," he said.

Attorney General Tom Miller announced in May that Iowa has joined four other states in a lawsuitagainst pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma and its chairman, Richard Sackler, for unlawful practices selling the opioid painkiller, OxyContin. 

Natalie Krebs is IPR's Health Reporter