Officials: Prescription drug abuse on the rise in Iowa


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Stashed in medicine cabinets and kept in bottles of all sizes and colors around the house, prescription medicine is fairly common in Iowa homes. But a recent report from the state says these common medications are increasingly lethal.

“The increased deaths is very concerning, and this is a very serious matter no matter how you frame it,” said Rob Metzger, treatment and services manager for 2nd Judicial District Department of Corrections.  

According to the State of Iowa Office of Drug Control Policy 2013 drug-control strategy report released last week, 62 Iowans died in 2011 from drug-related overdoses involving controlled prescription pain relievers, a 59 percent increase over 2010.

“People don’t associate much danger with something that comes from a doctor; they tend to underestimate the danger,” Steve Lukan, director of the office, said. “It’s a growing concern in the state, and we have to combat this.

Outside of Iowa, the United States has seen an increase in prescription-drug abuse. A January Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report labeled the overall problem as an “epidemic.”

The report further said prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing drug problem in the U.S.

“We’ve seen the devastating impact prescription drugs can have on young people,” said April Rovero, founder and CEO of the National Coalition against Prescription Drug Abuse. “We didn’t begin to see the depth of the problem until after my son’s death, and then we begin to know of the prescription drug epidemic.”

Lukan said Iowa is combating this problem through programs such as the prescription-drug monitoring program, which doctors can voluntarily check what medications their patients previously had prescribed to them. The program is an effort to thwart so called “doctor shopping,” or when patients go to numerous doctors to get more medication.

“We need to increase the penalties to stop doctor shopping,” he said.

Specifically, mentioning the goal of increasing the penalties of charges like knowingly lying, which is currently a misdemeanor to a Class-C felony.

Metzger said he generally disagrees with increasing the penalties to stop prescription-drug abuse and believes it’s better to address the problem through rehabilitation.

“It doesn’t make the most sense from a public-policy aspect,” he said. “I’m more of a proponent of handling the addiction via treatment and therapy. An addict isn’t always thinking rationally and is not necessarily weighing the pros and cons of punishment in the decision.”

Officials said while the addiction can reach all demographics, they place a special importance on educating young people about the problem.

“We encourage people to talk with their kids,” Lukan said. “It doesn’t cost taxpayers a dime, and we don’t want to see young people get hooked on prescription pain killers.”

Metzger and Rovero said they see a lack of knowledge about the dangers of prescription-drug abuse from college students.

“I hear pretty casual attitudes in talking to college students and throughout the age bracket,” Metzger said. “They don’t tend to equate [abuse] with a dangerous act or practice.”

One of the major concerns with the continued abuse is diversion, which officials say is linked the widespread availability of most prescriptions.

“Prescription-drug diversion happens in homes friends and family really play a big part of the problem,” Lukan said.

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