June 19, 2024

Experts: Pain pill addicts fueling Iowa’s heroin epidemic

DES MOINES (AP) — Iowa’s crackdown on prescription painkillers is pushing more abusers to heroin, spurring a deadly new wave of addictions that experts say has reached epidemic proportions.

Heroin use still lags far behind marijuana, methamphetamine and painkiller use in Iowa — but it’s climbing quickly.

Experts say the heroin epidemic, which is a growing problem nationwide, is largely spurred by people who first become addicted to opiate pain medication, according to the Des Moines Register. As the pills become more expensive and harder to obtain, people move on to heroin, which is cheaper and provides a more potent high.

A single pill of painkillers such as Percocet or OxyContin can cost from $10 to $80, while a bag of heroin sells on the street for about $10, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

“We are at a crossroads of Interstate 35 and Interstate 80. It’s coming at us from Chicago and Omaha and Texas,” said Mike Polich, executive director of United Community Services in Des Moines. “There’s lots of product out there on the streets, and it’s cheaper than trying to buy the pharmaceuticals.”

Users accustomed to precisely manufactured pain pills can be more prone to deadly consequences with a street-made and highly addictive drug such as heroin, experts say.

Heroin is often smoked or snorted, which makes it less intimidating than the traditional method of injection, dependency experts say. Beating heroin addiction can take users many tries.

“Opiate addiction has the most miserable withdrawal,” said John Peters, clinical supervisor of Powell Chemical Dependency Center at Iowa Lutheran Hospital in Des Moines. “They can’t sleep. They can’t stand to get off of it.”

While not as severe, Iowa’s problem has grown so serious that earlier this month more than 100 law officers, prosecutors, public health experts, addiction-treatment providers and others gathered for a heroin and pain-pill summit at the University of Iowa.

The Iowa counties hardest hit by the heroin surge are Polk, Johnson, Linn, Black Hawk, Dubuque and Scott, said Pat Reinert, assistant U.S. attorney for Iowa’s northern district office, based in Cedar Rapids.