A new report from the University of Iowa assesses the state’s opioid overdose epidemic and examines strategies that Iowa could take to address the crisis. 

Deaths from prescription opioids have quadrupled in the past 20 years in Iowa, according to the report from the University of Iowa Injury Prevention Research Center. Such death rates are lower compared with other states; however, Iowa is one of four states with such a dramatic increase. From 2002 to 2014, as many as 1,239 people died from a prescription opioid overdose in Iowa.

Organizations and agencies can use the report as a tool to educate themselves on where Iowa stands in the opioid epidemic with respect to current policies and programs, said Dr. Carri Casteel, lead author of the report and the center’s associate director. The report also identifies priority policies and programs that Iowa legislators and other stakeholders can consider as the state moves forward with addressing the opioid problem.

“We looked at evidence-based strategies for reducing the opioid epidemic and compared them to policy and programs happening in Iowa,” Casteel said. “It was a way for us to take inventory of our successes and identify gaps specific to Iowa.”

Priorities identified included physician training in pain management and opioid prescribing in medical school; education for practitioners on recognizing high-risk patients; reducing barriers to the use of Iowa’s Prescription Monitoring Program; strengthening surveillance; and ensuring that Medicaid and other health plans adequately cover all Medication Assisted Treatments.

In April, 38 stakeholders gathered in Des Moines to discuss the evidenced-based strategies and then identified priorities for moving forward. At the stakeholder meeting were representatives from law enforcement, public health, poison control, nursing, pharmacy, insurance and other agencies. 

“The opioid epidemic is a multifaceted problem that can’t be solved by individuals working in their own silos or field of expertise,” Casteel said.

On Oct. 16, the UI IPRC will present the report to a legislative committee tasked with evaluating the opioid epidemic in the state. The UI IPRC received a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct this work, which also involves Injury Prevention Research Centers at Johns Hopkins, University of Michigan and West Virginia University.