OxyContin, in 80 mg pills, in a 2013 file image. (Liz O. Baylen/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Pope: Legislature shouldn’t ignore opioid crisis

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The opioid crisis is here to stay in Iowa until the state takes aggressive action.

By Mars Thera Pope

thera-pope@uiowa.edu

The opioid crisis is just starting to find its way into the spotlight, despite the fact that a predicted 90 Americans die after an opioid overdose per day, according to drugabuse.gov. It all started in the 1990s, when doctors claimed that patients wouldn’t get addicted to opioid drugs and therefore started to prescribe them more often and in more generous amounts. Opioids include prescription pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.

The number of people being affected by the crisis continues to increase, and this includes Iowans. Iowa Department of Public Health reported opioid treatment admissions in Iowa increased from 608 in 2005 to 2,274 in 2016, and opioid overdose deaths increased from 28 in 2005 to 67 in 2016. The problem is very real, affecting many people and only getting worse.

RELATED: Schrichfield: Funding cuts to opioid-epidemic treatment hits Iowa

In 2016, then-Gov. Terry Branstad signed a bill legalizing a pill that can quickly reverse the effects of heroin and other opioids called Naloxone. By approving such a pill, the state government recognized the detrimental effects of the opioid crisis. However, throwing a pill at the problem doesn’t solve the root of it.

The increase can be blamed on the large spike in opioid prescriptions starting in 1999. In 2012, 259 million opioid prescriptions were given by health-care professionals, enough for every American adult to have a bottle of pills. The patients taking these pills are very susceptible to addiction, and when they can no longer get their prescription, they may turn to drugs they can obtain on the street, such as heroin. Heroin is cheaper and surprisingly easy to come by, especially in Iowa.

RELATED: Area sees ride in opioid use, echoing U.S. trend

This leads to a bigger problem. By people sharing needles they use for heroin or other drugs, HIV and hepatitis C are very likely to spread. HIV can be spread through sex, blood, and breast milk, meaning that needles don’t need to be shared once someone is infected; the disease can be transmitted to nondrug users, making the threat that much more real and dangerous. Recently, Iowa prisons have begun preparing for a rise in HIV and hepatitis C cases as the opioid crisis continues to amplify. An estimated $1 million is needed on top of the tight prison budget to accommodate the inmates affected. However, the likelihood of obtaining this money is slim as state budget cuts become more expected.

So many political issues can be brought back to money. Who’s paying, who’s getting it, what’s it for? The opioid epidemic is one of these issues, but it is very clear, according to many reliable reports, the issue is only getting worse and it’s affecting everyone in society despite their class, age, or criminal status. Although the crisis may be hitting some groups worse than others, it has the potential to seep into every individual’s life.

Therefore, the epidemic is a large threat that deserves more of a fight from the state legislators than simply blanketing it with a pill. Iowans affected by the nationwide opioid crisis deserve their recovery to be invested in.

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