OTTUMWA — Don’t mistake bad news for good, law enforcement professionals warn.
In a trend that may eventually be helpful, the number of meth labs reported by Iowa law enforcement is down again in 2014 and on a pace to drop to its lowest amount in 17 years.
Lt. Jason Bell of the Ottumwa Police Department said that statewide finding (by the Governor’s Office on Drug Control Policy) is echoed locally, too.
“It’s common all across Iowa, and here, too, because there’s so much meth out there,” said Bell.
And that’s not good, he agreed.
“It just means [users] don’t need to go through the [manufacturing] process,” he said.
“Iowan’s demand for methamphetamine, that appetite, has never dropped in Iowa,” agreed Dale Woolery, associate director of the ODCP. “… which could lead one to conclude … the meth problem has really not gone away.”
In fact, according to the ODCP in Iowa, the amounts and use of meth smuggled into Iowa are increasing. The 64,000 grams of meth seized by Iowa law enforcement so far this year is the largest volume since 2005. And, said Woolery, it’s stronger; meth purity, he said, is approaching 100 percent.
Worse, Iowa drug-related cases involving children testing positive for drugs (or having been in the presence of meth manufacturing), rose to the highest level in five years.
Woolery told the Courier that “labs” are the most visible part of the meth problem. So as the “noise level” dies down, citizens may not realize the problem is still present.
“The education component is generational; it needs to be constant,” he said. “We need to be messaging on methamphetamine or against anything else that is mind altering, or any item that hasn’t been given by a trusted adult.”
Meth-related prison admissions still make up more than half of all Iowa drug-related prison admissions.
Half, but not all. Beginning to catch up? The use of a seemingly helpful group of drugs: pain medicine.
“The ease [at first] of access makes it easy,” said Bell.
The report from the office on drug policy quotes professionals who treat substance abuse. The therapists increasingly say they are treating Iowans who begin taking pain pills for legitimate health problems.
The counselors find legitimate patients may become addicted to the medication over time and eventually “switch to heroin when they can no longer afford the medicine.”
In Ottumwa, it may not be that addicts find the medicine too pricey; they may just have run out of cooperative physicians to provide access to the pain killers.
“That’s a lot of heroin addicts,” said Bell. “We talk to people who tell us they started with prescription drugs. After a while, the doctor may stop prescribing it because they worry the patient is abusing the pills — so the people switch to heroin.”
“The thought that [they] start with a broken arm and end some day with injecting a syringe into their bloodstream is [unfathomable] to many people,” said Woolery.
But it happens.
“It really is about access,” said Woolery. “If insurance won’t pay for the prescription, or if the ability to pay for medicine out of pocket decreases, or the doctor won’t fill a prescription” an addict can become desperate.
In a lot of places, the prices for pain meds and the prices for heroin are comparable. Heroin and many pain killers are related via the opiate family of pain-relieving drugs.
“Preventing prescription drug abuse in the first place must be a priority,” said director of the Governor’s Office on Drug Control Policy Steve Lukan in a press release. “One way to do this is through continuing education for health care professionals, parents and children.”
His office judges how bad the prescription drug problem is by ER visits and deaths from overdoses.
In 2003, there were 11 overdose deaths in the state. A decade later sees 2013 with 77 deaths from improperly used meds.
“Medication Take Back … also help Iowans safely dispose of unused prescription drugs in a way that prevents abuse,” said Lukan. “The most recent Take Back effort in September collected over four tons of unused medicines.”
The report is compiled with other data in the 2015 Iowa Drug Control Strategy, which outlines a plan involving prevention, treatment and enforcement efforts aimed at reducing illegal drug use.