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Data: Iowa Department of Public Health; Chart: Axios Visuals

There was a sharp increase in the number of opioid-related deaths last year, according to preliminary local, state and federal counts.

Why it matters: The data reflects what drug-policy advocates have been warning about. Powerful synthetic drugs — fentanyl can be 100 times more potent than morphine — are becoming more common.

By the numbers: There were 212 opioid overdoses in Iowa in 2020, an increase of 35% from 2019, according to preliminary data from the Iowa Department of Public Health.

  • The previous record was 206 in 2017.

Zoom in: Polk County medical examiner Joshua Akers told supervisors earlier this month that he is particularly concerned about a spike in the number of deaths linked with illegally-manufactured fentanyl.

  • There were 62 such deaths reported to Akers’ office last year, an increase of more than 70% from 2019.

The big picture: Overdose deaths nationally spiked after the start of the pandemic, driven by wider use of synthetic opioids, per The Commonwealth Fund.

Between the lines: The pandemic overshadowed and may have contributed to our opioid epidemic, Dale Woolery, director of the Iowa Governor's Office of Drug Control Policy told Axios.

  • Isolation meant fewer people were around to intervene in overdoses, and fentanyl is cheaper than heroin.

What’s next: More focus is needed to help interdict and reduce illegal opioid supplies, an effort that goes beyond Iowa’s borders, Woolery said.

  • We all can help by properly disposing of unused prescription medications, especially opioids.
  • National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is Saturday, and there are hundreds of Iowa drop-off sites.
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Go deeper

Apr 18, 2021 - Axios Des Moines

Iowa Ag Secretary slams report naming Raccoon River "most endangered"

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig on Iowa PBS's Iowa Press. Screenshot courtesy of Iowa PBS

A national report that ranks the Raccoon River as one of the "most endangered" in the nation is "a bit of propaganda" that "is not based in fact," Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig said in an Iowa PBS interview that aired Friday.

Why it matters: The river is the source of much of the metro’s water and has for years contained excessive levels of nitrates that have cost users millions of dollars to remove.

Context: The river’s pollution has been the subject of litigation and cited in ongoing calls for Iowa to scrap its voluntary approach to addressing agricultural runoff.

  • DSM Water Works CEO Ted Corrigan last week said we face a "catastrophe" unless we find a solution. (Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowa Press Moderator David Yepsen questioned Naig about how he could dismiss the American Rivers report, asking the secretary if he was "just a farm leader in Iowa blowing off environmental concerns?"

  • "Absolutely not. And that report itself, the way that those types of reports come out with no basis, they were nominated by an activist group in Iowa. It’s a fundraising plea for this organization," Naig responded.

Of note: Here's how American Rivers selects the which waterways go in the annual report.

The other side: "We're interested in solutions — a safe, clean drinking water supply and a healthier river — and that is what this report is about," Amy Souers Kober, a spokesperson for American Rivers, said in a statement to Axios.

Apr 19, 2021 - Axios Des Moines

Iowa delays stimulus spending decisions over lack of guidance

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Vague language associated with last month’s federal stimulus have prompted local and state governments to delay decisions about how to spend their share of the $1.9 trillion.

  • That's according to multiple state and local officials during a Taxpayers Association of Central Iowa meeting last week.

Why it matters: There are spending deadlines and concerns that our local governments won’t be able to fully or best utilize allocations.

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
1 hour ago - Science

China makes history with successful Mars landing

A model of the Tianwen-1 Mars rover is displayed during an exhibition at the National Museum of China in Beijing. Photo: Wang Zhao/AFP via Getty Images

A Chinese lander carrying a rover successfully touched down on Mars for the first time, state media reports.

Why it matters: This is the first time China has landed a spacecraft on another planet, and it launches the nation into an elite club of only a few space agencies to successfully make it to the Martian surface.

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