Lawmakers seeking change to help stop pain killer abuse in Iowa

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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG TV-9) -- A group of Iowa lawmakers say something needs to change to stop the heroin epidemic in Iowa. They say change might need to start with better regulation of prescription pain killers.

On Wednesday, Senator Rob Hogg from Cedar Rapids and Representative Chuck Isenhart from Dubuque hosted a pain killer abuse forum.

2016 has been a deadly year for heroin overdoses in Dubuque. So far this year, rescue crews have saved 26 people who were over-dosing on heroin. Another 9 people died after they overdosed on the drug.

Law-makers say heroin addiction often starts when people abuse prescription pain killers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say people who get addicted to prescription pain killers are 40 times more likely to become addicted to heroin.

The law-makers organized Wednesday’s forum to gather input from doctors, law-enforcement and substance abuse counselors. They say they want to evaluate the amount of pain medication that doctors prescribe in Iowa.

While overall heroin use has increased, experts at Wednesday’s meeting say the number of heroin overdose deaths has dropped slightly this year. They say that could be a result of recent change in Iowa law.

In April, Governor Branstad signed a bill into law that makes it legal for first-responders and family members of addicts to have and administer Narcan. The drug can prevent overdoses from becoming fatal.

Now law-makers say they're working to gather information on what law could change to better regulate prescription pain killers.

"We've become dependent really on using strong pain killers for treatment of regular aliments, such as cancer and inadvertently many people have become addicted to those pain killers," said Isenhart.

Experts say one thing that does seem to be working well are the state's prescription drug take back events. Those events allow people to drop off old prescription medicine to law enforcement officers.

In the past 6 years, the state has collected 39 tons of left over prescription drugs through those events.

In Dubuque, people can drop off those medications any time at Hartig Drug on University Avenue and at the Dubuque County Sheriff's Office.