September 27, 2023

Drug use trends in Iowa — the good and the bad

By Jon Dunwell

The Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy (ODCP) has released its annual Drug Control Strategy. This report highlights drug related issues facing Iowa and recommendations for how to address these serious problems.

The good news — the use of illegal drugs and drug overdoses in Iowa are lower than that of most states and the rate of youth substance use is declining in most cases.

The bad news — alcohol related deaths have increased, marijuana related hospital visits are up, and both opioid and methamphetamine deaths are at an all-time high in the state.

The ODCP has summarized its findings in a press release, and you can find them below. The full report can be found at


The rate of binge drinking in Iowa continues at a relatively high level, compared to most other states, as alcohol sales have nearly doubled over the last decade. In 2021, alcohol-related deaths (e.g., poisonings, accidents, and chronic disease) claimed the lives of a record 827 Iowans, up 38 percent compared to 2019.


Marijuana-related hospital emergency department visits increased in Iowa to 6,503 in 2021, up over 58 percent from five years ago, amid rising drug potency (THC concentrations) and associated health risks. On the other hand, 8 percent of 11th graders said they used marijuana in the past 30 days during 2021, the lowest level in nearly 20 years.


Only 11 methamphetamine (meth) labs were found in Iowa in 2021. However, during the same year, amounts of highly-pure meth reportedly smuggled into Iowa remained at or near record high levels. Also, in 2021, psychostimulant-related deaths (e.g. meth overdoses) in Iowa reached an all-time high of 196, up 20 percent compared with 2019.


Opioid-related deaths in Iowa reached a record high 258 in 2021, up 64 percent compared with 2019, with the largest increase occurring among young Iowans (up 290 percent among those under the age of 25). Illicit fentanyl was implicated in 83 percent of the most recent deaths, reflecting how widespread powerful synthetic opioids have become in a short amount of time, including as an adulterant in other substances — such as counterfeit pills — for unsuspecting users.