Linn County sees drop in opioid-related deaths

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Last week, the Iowa Department of Public Health released new numbers on opioid-related deaths in Iowa.

A box of Narcan, a medication used to revive someone who has overdosed on an opioid drug. Participants in an ASAC training session Friday got free boxes of the drug to use at home in an emergency.

Since August of this year, Iowa saw 89 opioid-related deaths, which included everything from prescription painkillers, fentanyl, and heroin

That's compared to 137 deaths in 2017 and 112 deaths in 2016.

The trends in Linn County are very similar and although they haven't received numbers for 2018 yet, county health officials say the number of opioid-related deaths in Linn County is also decreasing.

They say one of the reasons they are seeing this decline is because Iowa received legislative support to make Narcan more widely available.

Narcan is the medication used to reverse an opioid overdose.

First-responders like police officers and EMS crews are now able to carry it and administer the medication when needed.

Just last year Iowa pharmacies started selling Narcan without a prescription.

Iowa emergency departments are also now required to report opioid-related cases.

Tricia Kitzmann, the Community Health Division Manager with the Linn County Public Health Department says that means hospitals are now seeing more beds filled with patients who survived an overdose.

"A lot of folks are like that's not good we don't want to see an increase in hospitalizations, but we do because what that means is as we see the death rates go down, the Narcan is working and we're getting people revived and to the hospital and getting into treatment," says Kitzmann.

She also says while that's a step in the right direction, Iowa is still struggling to help people get access to treatment facilities.

"We don't have enough treatment beds, there's always a wait, there's a lot of physicians that aren't willing to do the drug monitoring to help with that if needed for some of these folks that are coming off of the opioid or heroin," says Kitzmann. .

Health officials say the recently released report is just preliminary for 2018 and these trends could change by the end of the year.