Town Hall Focuses on Heroin Problem in Eastern Iowa

Published: Feb. 10, 2016 at 11:03 PM CST
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Area law enforcement and prosecutors are committed to fighting the heroin epidemic in Iowa.

Wednesday night they joined forces for a town hall meeting at the Cedar Rapids Public Library.

Authorities responded to nine heroin-related overdoses in Cedar Rapids in 2009, and that number has surged in the past six years. In 2015, Cedar Rapids police responded to 61 heroin-related overdoses.

Those, however, are only the cases police respond to. A lot of people go directly to the hospital and don't get included in those police reports.

One Cedar Rapids officer who's in charge of a new program called the Eastern Iowa Heroin Initiative said he got the numbers from the hospitals in the city. The real number for 2015 is really about 250 to 300 heroin cases.

"It's a much bigger problem than we once thought,” said Officer Al Fear.

From Cedar Rapids Police to the U.S. Attorney's office for the Northern District of Iowa, many are working around the clock to put a stop to the Heroin problem.

"We are at a good position in Iowa to make an impact before the full brunt of the crisis reaches our state,” said Northern District of Iowa U.S. Attorney Kevin Techau.

Heroin, however, is definitely already here.

"We are seeing an increase, certainly, in about the eastern third of the state of Iowa. That's where we see the largest increase in heroin use. A lot of it is coming from Illinois,” said Associate Director of the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy, Dale Woolery.

Authorities said 85 percent of people currently using heroin start by abusing prescription pain killers.

"They get addicted to it to the point where they need it and the prescription runs out and next thing you know they need the high, they need their body to still have that substance. So, then they turn to heroin because it's cheaper on the street and it’s easier to get,” Officer Fear said.

So, battling the abuse of prescription pain killers is a big part of the fight.

Janet Andrews knows all about that battle.

"He became a different man, a different person,” Andrews said.

She shared her story publicly for the first time at the town hall.

"My late husband was addicted to pain pills, after an injury, and then it just kind of - over the years - it took a toll and kind of spiraled out of control,” Andrews said.

She said he eventually took his life about a year ago.

Now, she and many others at the town hall are doing everything they can to prevent others from experiencing the pains of addiction.

"It just took over his life. I just don't want other families to have to go through that,” Andrews said.

Officer Fear who helped organize the town hall is leading the new Eastern Iowa Heroin Initiative to continue creating awareness and getting people the help they need.

He said if anyone needs help with addiction to pain killers or heroin to call him at 319-432-1492.