State, local stakeholders discuss recommendations for reducing opioid overdoses in Iowa

Published: Feb. 19, 2020 at 6:09 PM CST
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A new report shows the number of deaths from drugs such as methamphetamine and opioids in Iowa is drastically increasing.

Health care providers, drug treatment professionals, and law enforcement agree that something needs to happen to stop this. One eastern Iowa man has also joined in the fight for solutions after losing his son to an overdose.

"Our son, Seth, was 15 and he started off with believe it or not being prescribed the prescription Adderall," Jeff Johnston said.

That Adderall prescription led to an addiction and ultimately, Johnston losing his son, Seth, to a heroin overdose in 2016.

"I look at how it all happened and the five or six years in between, and there were a lot of red flags," Johnston said.

Seth was one of 314 people who died from a drug overdose in Iowa in 2016. A new report from the University of Iowa's Public Injury Prevention Research Center shows the most drastic trend has been an increase in psychostimulant death rates - more than quadrupling from 2009 to 2017.

"Polysubstance drug use specifically with methamphetamines have been rising," Michael Niles, a University of Iowa Masters of Public Health student who was involved in the stakeholder meetings, said.

Monitoring that type of abuse, where people use more than one drug at once was one of five recommendations that came out of a stakeholder meeting aimed at reducing opioid overdoses.

"We need to start collecting that data and disseminating that to important stakeholders in the state to start to really understand what is going into polysubstance drug use," Niles said.

The other 4 recommendations included providing funding for naloxone, which reverses opioid overdoses, developing treatment programs that take a holistic approach, improving communication between stakeholders and taking steps aimed at reducing stigma.

"We looked at a report that came out of John Hopkins University. For that report, they gathered national experts from around the country to come out with these evidence-based recommendations, so we used that as something that we could look at and compare what Iowa was doing," Ann Saba, Communication Specialist with the University of Iowa Injury Prevention Research Center, said.

Since his son's death, Johnston said he feels awareness has grown.

"Now, if you go Google Adderall, the first thing it says is has some addictive personalities to meth," Johnston said. "I'm thinking, where that information was when my son was prescribed it?"

Continuing the conversation is key, and that's the goal of his new Choices Foundation, targeting youth.

"The key is with the younger kids. Let's get to them before they make those decisions and, now we're not having to unwind poor behavior,” Johnston said.

They said the purpose of this report was to identify priorities that state leaders and the community can use moving forward.