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Iowa —known as "The Hawkeye State" (said to have originated from the scout, "Hawkeye," in James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans published in 1826) -- is today probably best known for corn, corn, and more corn! Last year, Iowa produced over 2.7 billion bushels! But sadly, Iowa is also becoming known for something far more sinister-a growing substance abuse crisis.
Iowa boasts a comfortable average household annual income level of $75,951, and given its relative wealth, it would be tempting to think that it had been spared the scourge of substance abuse and addiction that has ravaged poorer states. But despite being well-off in terms of resources, Iowa alcohol abuse is a huge problem (Iowa has the 5th highest rate of binge drinking in the U.S.) and the numbers for illicit drug use continue to rise.
In a recent study over the course of one year, roughly 373,000 residents of Iowa (11.81% of the state population) used illegal drugs, and another 185,000 (5.86% of the state population) abused alcohol. Of the two most populous cities in Iowa, Cedar Rapids had the higher rate of drug- and alcohol-related deaths at 15.63% during the same time period, while Des Moines had the lower rate at 15.19%.
When we look at the relationship between addiction and economics, we quickly realize that it's quite complicated. Drug and alcohol abuse is a national problem, and no state in the US has been spared. Over 60,000 overdoses occurred nationwide in 2016, with nearly 175 people dying daily. Drug overdoses kill more people annually than suicides, homicides, car accidents and guns. These numbers increase every year. Poorer people are statistically more likely to struggle with drug or alcohol abuse, but this doesn't necessarily mean that people that are more well-off economically are less likely to become addicted. In fact in some cases, wealthy people can be thrown into poverty as a direct result of addiction. Someone who is solidly middle class can fall into poverty if their addiction leads to poor work performance and job loss. It can also then be harder to get a new job, if someone has been fired from their old one. It's a vicious downward spiral.
Much like the rest of the United States, the scourge of opioid addiction is creeping up on Iowa, threatening to lay waste to whole communities, and decimate families. In Iowa, 143 drug overdose deaths involved opioids in 2018—a rate of 4.8. It may seem small but because these drugs are so highly addictive, the numbers grow at a shocking rate. Opioid addiction is a foe that can sneak up on people, even when they think they're being vigilant.
Prescription painkillers (like Oxycontin, Vicodin, and Percocet) are highly addictive, in large part because they activate the powerful reward centers in the human brain. These drugs trigger the release of endorphins, (your brain's feel-good neurotransmitters) which mask or interrupt your perception of pain and enhance feelings of pleasure and happiness, creating a short-lasting but extremely powerful sense of well-being. It's only human to love the feeling! And, when an opioid starts to wear off, it's in our very human nature to crave the return of that wonderful sense that everything is perfect and as it should be. This is the first step on the path toward addiction, and it can happen even to people who think they're being careful.
The root of the opioid problem stems from doctors over-prescribing these highly addictive drugs when, in many cases, Tylenol, Excedrin or Advil will do. These drugs may seem safe, especially when doctors prescribe them, but just one or two of few these prescription pain pills can get people hooked and send them off on a downward spiral into the throes of full-on dependency. In 2018, Iowa providers wrote 49.3 opioid prescriptions for every 100 persons!
Unfortunately, prescription painkiller abuse can often send people down far darker paths. Opioids often lead to heroin addiction, (as heroin is cheaper than the pills, and usually far easier to obtain on the street.) The spiral downward doesn't stop there. When certain street drugs like heroin aren't available, drug abusers often then turn to incredibly powerful and dangerous synthetics like fentanyl, which sooner or later result in a body bag. In the United States, synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, are now the most common drugs involved in drug overdose deaths, responsible for 59% of all opioid-related decedents.
A recent study took a look at the substances most commonly abused by Iowa youth, and the numbers are concerning:
26% of high school students report they've used marijuana (also called grass, pot, or weed) 1 or more times in their lifetime.
4% of Iowa high school students report they've used any form of cocaine (for example, powder, crack, or freebase) 1 or more times in their lifetime.
4% of Iowa youth (ages 12-17) report using pain relievers in a way not directed by a doctor in the past year.
The good news for Iowa residents struggling with drug and alcohol addiction is that help is only a few clicks away. The Hawkeye State is awash in resources, whether you just need counseling, a broader more community-based approach, or full-on detox services. All it takes is the courage to take the first, terrifying step. Embrace the pain that got you here. Use it, own it, and move past it. Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
Iowa State Facts
Iowa Population: 2,926,041
Law Enforcement Officers in Iowa: 5,540
Iowa Prison Population: 11,600
Iowa Probation Population: 22,061
Violent Crime Rate National Ranking: 36
2004 Federal Drug Seizures in Iowa
Cocaine: 87.8 kgs.
Heroin: 0.0 kgs.
Methamphetamine: 39.1 kgs.
Marijuana: 425.9 kgs.
Ecstasy: 2.205 tablets
Methamphetamine Laboratories: 418 (DEA, state, and local)
Iowa Drug Situation: Methamphetamine, both that which is produced in Mexico or the Southwest United States and locally produced, remains the principal drug of concern in the state of Iowa. Cocaine, particularly crack cocaine, is a significant problem in the urban areas of the state. Iowa also serves as a transshipment point for drugs being transported to the eastern United States via Interstate 80. Interstates 29 and 35 also provide a critical north-south transportation avenue for drug traffickers.
Cocaine in Iowa: Cocaine continues to be readily available throughout Iowa. The cocaine is transported from the West Coast by motor vehicles, and mail services. Suppliers from Chicago, Illinois, also supply cocaine to eastern Iowa. Mexican polydrug traffickers bring some of the cocaine into the state with shipments of marijuana and methamphetamine. Much of the cocaine HCl is converted into crack cocaine for sale at the retail level. Street gangs control distribution in many of the urban areas of Iowa. An increase in violence accompanies this gang presence.
Heroin in Iowa: Heroin is sporadically available in retail-level quantities throughout the urban areas of Iowa. Most of the heroin seizures are of the black-tar type, but intelligence from Des Moines and Cedar Rapids also indicates the presence of white and Mexican brown powder heroin.
Methamphetamine in Iowa: Methamphetamine is the primary drug of concern in Iowa. Caucasian males and females are equally the primary users. Most of the methamphetamine in the state is brought in by Hispanic organizations via motor vehicles, commercial airlines, and mail delivery services. The large Mexican communities in Iowa provide an infrastructure to import and distribute the methamphetamine. The purity of imported methamphetamine is declining from earlier years and is cited to be as low as three percent with the average of 20-25 percent. Local small toxic laboratories continue to be a significant problem throughout Iowa. Most of the laboratories produce only ounce quantities at a time. Law enforcement reports that high purity crystal methamphetamine or ice is available in Northwest Iowa.
Predatory Drugs in Iowa: The state of Iowa continues to see an increase in the abuse of “club drugs” such as MDMA and GHB. MDMA (ecstasy) is found at rave parties in eastern and central Iowa. There is also intelligence indicating the trafficking of MDMA by Asian trafficking organizations in the state.
Marijuana in Iowa: Marijuana is readily available throughout eastern and northwestern Iowa, usually in combination with cocaine and/or methamphetamine. The majority of the marijuana is imported from the southwest border by motor vehicles, and mail delivery services. Domestically produced marijuana is also available in Iowa. Small indoor and outdoor grow operations have been found in eastern and central Iowa. "Ditchweed" marijuana is a continuing problem. The ditchweed is used as filler for higher purity imported marijuana.
Other Drugs in Iowa: Law enforcement in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids report an increasing problem with PCP. The most popular pharmaceutical substances abused in eastern and central Iowa are Vicodin, Lortab, propoxyphene, alprazolam, hydrocodone, Ultram, diazepam, Hycodan, Demerol, Dilaudid, and Percodan. Much of the diversion is through fraudulent prescriptions, doctor shopping, pharmacy break-ins, and hospital thefts. OxyContin is also noted to be a pharmaceutical drug of abuse in Iowa.
DEA Mobile Enforcement Teams: This cooperative program with state and local law enforcement counterparts was conceived in 1995 in response to the overwhelming problem of drug-related violent crime in towns and cities across the nation. There have been 409 deployments completed resulting in 16,763 arrests of violent drug criminals as of February 2004. There has been one MET deployment in the State of Iowa since the inception of the program, in Ft. Dodge.
DEA Regional Enforcement Teams: This program was designed to augment existing DEA division resources by targeting drug organizations operating in the United States where there is a lack of sufficient local drug law enforcement. This Program was conceived in 1999 in response to the threat posed by drug trafficking organizations that have established networks of cells to conduct drug trafficking operations in smaller, non-traditional trafficking locations in the United States. Nationwide, there have been 22 deployments completed resulting in 608 arrests of drug trafficking criminals as of February 2004. There has been one RET deployment in the State of Iowa since the inception of the program, in Des Moines.
Special Topics: Interstates 80 and 35 cross Iowa, providing a ready smuggling route for many drug trafficking organizations. During FY2003, Operation Pipeline highway interdictions in the state of Iowa led to seizures including approximately 177 kilograms of cocaine, 2,500 pounds of marijuana, 98 pounds of methamphetamine, and nearly $2.5 million dollars.