Iowa, Johnson County substance abuse numbers higher than national averages


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Iowans may be spending more than most people across the country in substance-abuse-related issues, Iowa health officials say.

According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, substance abuse costs people in the United States approximately $1,000 each year in health care, law enforcement, motor-vehicle crashes, crime, and lost productivity.

Local officials say Johnson County exceeds the trends in those who receive abuse support.

Doug Beardsley, the director of the county Department of Public Health, said ocal officials see a significant amount of substance abuse — any kind of alcohol or drug abuse — related calls and highway fatalities.

"We have higher rates of high-risk drinking and all of the problems that go along with them," he said.

Though Beardsley could not provide a monetary figure that the county spends on addressing substance abuse, he said there has been an increasing need for resources and the number of reported cases.

According to a survey conducted from 2007 to 2009 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in coordination with the state of Iowa, Johnson County has higher percentages compared with state and national levels of adults who drank in the last 30 days as well as binge drinking.

Despite the increases compared with the state, Beardsley said Iowa City officials are working with the university to curb the amount of substance-abuse issues at the city and university level.

At the enforcement level, Iowa City police have seen an increase in the number of people who are being charged with things related to substance abuse. Last year, the police charged 52 individuals with second offense OWI charges and 979 public-intoxication charges; in 2010, they had 34 second-offense OWI charges and 887 public-intoxication charges.

"You have to look at a broad range, but we probably see more alcohol abuse in our community," Iowa City police Sgt. Denise Brotherton said.

Brotherton also said actual numbers may sometimes be higher than reported because police officials help more people seek assistance for substance abuse than they charge.

Ron Berg, the CEO of MECCA Services in Iowa City — a community-based, not-for-profit organization that assists people dealing with substance abuse and behavioral health issues — said he does not think Iowa City stands out compared with the national perspective.

"Compared to the last 10 or 15 years, we have seen more serious conditions," Berg said, and he thinks the higher binge-drinking rate only affects a small part of the city's population.

Yet Berg said the Iowa City branch of MECCA sees approximately 5,000 substance-abuse issues each year — and the cases don't only affect the abuser.

"When a person who is experiencing difficulties, the family would be affected; there could be tension or effect on the employer and the coworkers," he said.

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