Combating Iowa’s opioid epidemic

Upmeyer Column: As the recent chilly weather has shown us, fall is definitely here. Fall sports are coming to an end, the leaves are turning color, and harvest is underway after some delays. But this cold and wet weather won’t stop Iowa farmers from doing what they do best: feeding the world. Be sure to watch for slow moving vehicles and have patience on the roads as harvest season wraps up.

Over the last decade, Iowa and countless other states are experiencing an epidemic. It’s a problem that has slowly grown over the years but went mostly undetected until recently. I’m speaking of the widespread abuse of opioids and heroin in our state and the damage and heartbreak that it continues to cause in our communities.

Numerous families have seen the devastating effects of abuse and addiction first hand. Opioid addiction doesn’t contain itself to a certain age group, a particular race, or economic status. Oftentimes these addictions begin following an injury that is treated with prescription painkillers, but many end up turning to heroin when prescriptions run out.

While the problem isn’t as bad in Iowa as it is in other states, overdose deaths and people seeking treatment have slowly crept up over the last decade.

Earlier this month, a bipartisan group of legislators met at the Capitol as part of the Opioid Epidemic Evaluation Study Committee. The committee heard testimony from public health and safety officials, health care professionals, and law enforcement about ways to reduce opioid dependence and combat this ever-growing problem. Presenters discussed what other states are doing to improve this situation and shared personal stories about family members and friends who have been affected by addiction. Committee members also heard about possible steps that we as a Legislature could take next session to address the opioid problem.

The study committee will continue to gather information and will issue a final report with recommendations later this year. I look forward to seeing their suggestions.

In 2016, we passed legislation that made opioid antagonists, such as Narcan, more available to the public so that overdose deaths can be prevented. Last session we took a good look at how we can use the Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP) which is used to identify patients that may be suffering with prescription drug abuse and prevent doctor shopping.

To shed an even brighter light on this issue, Governor Kim Reynolds declared last week as Opioid Awareness Week. The Governor spent the week traveling across the state to highlight efforts and initiatives already underway to combat opioid addiction in Iowa.

Our work on this issue is not done and in some ways we’re just getting started. This is not a partisan issue as both parties look for the best ways to end abuse and help those facing addiction. I look forward to more conversations on how we can help those in need.

As always, please keep in touch. As legislation moves forward, feel free to send me comments, questions or feedback that you may have regarding issues before us in the House. I can be reached at linda.upmeyer@legis.iowa.gov or (515) 281-3521.