Iowa's Heroin Problem Started In the Medicine Cabinet

Nov 19, 2015

According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, the number of heroin overdose deaths in Iowa has increased from three in 2007 to 20 in 2013.

“Six years ago we didn’t see heroin cases, just didn’t see it,” says Nicholas Klinefeldt, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa. “Now we have heroin cases; we have heroin overdose deaths. It’s here, and I think the problem is going to get worse before it gets better.”

Sam Quinones, author of Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic, says Iowa is now part of the larger national story on heroin use – a story that begins with prescription medication.

“[It began] with a revolution, a fundamental change in our approach to pain treatment and our belief in what prescription pain killers can do and how much risk is involved when you are prescribed them.”

He says that when people are prescribed painkillers such as Percocet, Lortab, Vicodin, and Oxycontin, they can get hooked. When the prescription runs out, or if the drug costs are too much, they may turn to a cheaper substance to get high.

Linn, Johnson and Scott counties lead the state in heroin samples submitted to the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Criminalistics Laboratory.

 “These pills are molecularly very similar to heroin, they have the same euphoria, withdrawals, and same effect on the brain’s chemistry,” Quinones says.

Davenport mother Kim Brown believes this is what happened to her son, Andy Lamp, who died of a heroin overdose in 2011.

“He had a surgery when he was 14, which I believe may have precipitated his heroin use,” Brown says. “I’ll never know for sure. I can only tell you that after his surgery, it seemed like his drug use escalated.”

Until now, Iowa’s heroin crisis has been handled by law enforcement for the most part. Many community leaders would like that to change. Klinefeldt wants to see law enforcement work in tandem with the medical, dental, pharmacy, and treatment communities.

In terms of what Iowans can do to help curb what state leaders are calling a heroin epidemic, Klinefeldt advises community members to check their medicine cabinets for prescription pain killers, especially opiates.

“If you’re not going to use them, there may be a kid out there who will access your medicine cabinet and use them in the wrong way. Also, do you need them in the first place? How long do you need them? What are you going to do with them when you are done?”

Here is a list of resources to find locations for leftover medication take-back in your area.