Apr 20, 2021 - News
Opioid deaths in Iowa jumped 35% in 2020
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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