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State Report Notes Growing Prescription Drug Abuse Problem

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - As Iowa works to battle drug and alcohol related crimes, authorities have noted a shift in the drug problem. An annual report by the Governor's Office of Drug Control Policy (ODCP) showed a drop in the number of methamphetamine labs discovered in the last fiscal year. But it also noted a significant jump in the abuse of legal prescription drugs in the state.

According to the report, 62 Iowans died last year of drug-related overdoses involving controlled prescription pain relievers (i.e. oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone). That figure is up 59% from 2010 and it's also an eight-fold increase compared to just 10 years ago.

One woman nearing the end of treatment at an Area Substance Abuse Council (ASAC) program in Cedar Rapids didn't find the statistics surprising. She said her reason for abusing prescription pain killers is the same reason a lot of drug addicts cite for the same problem.

"I could go in and get whatever I wanted. I knew what needed to be said (to the doctor) and what needed to be done to obtain it. You find it (pain killers) in your medicine cabinet, your parent's medicine cabinet, your friends medicine cabinet. It's easily obtainable," she said.

The state report says some people may have switched from street drugs to illegal prescription drugs in the belief abuse was less harmful or easier to hide. The woman undergoing treatment, who didn't want to share her name or hometown, said some treatment programs didn't recognize prescription drug abuse as a separate problem until recent years. For instance, she tried to get clean and sober two years earlier and was the only person in treatment at that time for prescription drug abuse. And even those with her in treatment at the time didn't always act like she had a "real" drug problem.

"They don't take you as seriously," she said.

The woman said ASAC didn't have a specific treatment method for getting off legal painkillers then. But the treatment program does now and she said that fact alone confirms abuse of legal prescription drugs as a growing issue. The state report said 10.1% of addicts now name non street drugs, like prescription medicines, as their drug of choice.

"I'm shocked it's only 10 percent now, "she said adding "I've known people who've used pills for years and years."

The drug report noted Iowa should end the year with 340 meth labs discovered by police. That compares to 412 in 2011. However, even those numbers are a far cry from the 1,500 meth labs discovered in 2004 before state law restricted the sale of key ingredients like Pseudoephedrine.

State authorities also seized 5,813 marijuana plants this fiscal year compared to 2,003 the year before. Additionally, officers also reported intercepting more shipments of marijuana grown in states like Colorado that allow the cultivation for medical purposes.

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